Trump meets with Mattis and Republican lawmakers amid fears of defense budget cut

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A day after President Donald Trump appeared to call the current Defense Department budget “crazy,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis and key Republican lawmakers who oppose any defense budget cuts met with the President to discuss military funding.

“I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race. The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!” Trump tweeted Monday.

Mattis attended the Tuesday White House meeting along with the chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, according to defense officials and congressional staffers.

The meeting comes as the Trump administration has floated a 5% cut to the Defense Department, reducing the defense budget from the $716 billion allocated in 2019 to $700 billion in 2020 as part of a federal government-wide effort to reduce the deficit.

Defense officials were planning on a $733 billion budget for 2020 prior to the proposed cuts.

“The $733 (billion) figure was arrived by the Department carefully looking at the requirements of the National Defense Strategy. It reflects our best projection of a strategy informed budget,” Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, Trump’s nominee to lead US Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“Anything below $733 (billion) would increase risk, and that risk would be manifested across the force. We’re in the process now of very carefully across the department examining the details of what the nature of the risk would be, who it would be imposed upon and the nature of it,” he added.

Last week, Inhofe and Thornberry wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which they argued against any cuts to the defense budget, saying a “last-minute directive to cut $33 billion from defense would be dangerous.”

Mattis cited their editorial multiple times during his Saturday remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, saying, “America can afford survival.”

Asked about Trump’s proposed budget cuts, Mattis said, “this is the normal give and take of building the President’s budget, ladies and gentlemen. This is not a decision; this is where the President is trying to sort out competing priorities.”

Inhofe called their meeting with Trump a “productive conversation.”

“I had a frank and productive conversation about our national security goals with the President,” Inhofe said in a statement provided to CNN.

“I am confident from the meeting that the President is determined to keep our nation strong and the military adequately funded. I look forward to continuing to work with President Trump and Vice President Pence to achieve these shared goals,” Inhofe added.

An Armed Services Committee aide echoed Inhofe’s comments, saying “the participants reviewed the damage done to the military during the Obama administration,” and that “the participants believe we continue to make progress and are still on track to rebuild the military.”

News of the meeting was first reported by The Washington Post.

Trump had made boosting defense spending a major aspect of his campaign and, upon signing the $716 billion 2019 defense budget, Trump called the measure “the most significant investment in our military in our war fighters in modern history,” saying that he was “very proud to be a big, big part of it.”

However, with the Democrats taking over the House of Representatives in 2019, it’s possible that there will be less enthusiasm for defense budget increases within the new Congress.

By Ryan Browne, CNN

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