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Press Gaggle with Secretary Mattis

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
Aug. 14, 2017
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SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS: Those guys on the submarine, they really -- they've got quite the job. And they still go unconnected, sometimes, for months at a time. How many of us do that? You know, months of the time, off -- off Internet, off e-mail --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Well, Barbara unplugs all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: Yes. Good to see you all. How's life going?

(UNKNOWN): Sorry --

SEC. MATTIS: What's going on?

Q: North Korea.

Q: Korea.

Q: Korea.

Q: What about Guam?

SEC. MATTIS: You know, Guam is well protected.

Q: But what if they do what they talk about doing?

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: I don't -- I don't talk hypotheticals. The president's been very clear. So I don't talk hypotheticals. We're the strong silent type in the military.

Q: Did the president talk to you about Venezuela before suggesting there are military options?

SEC. MATTIS: I never -- I never discuss my discussions with the commander in chief. I just -- I just don't -- don't think of that as a yes or no. I just -- I maintain a pretty high level of confidentiality.

There's times when I can talk about it, because we want to reinforce a certain message or something. But in this case, because of the nature of the question, I'd -- I'd prefer not to answer that.

Q: By the way, are you on the record right now?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.

Q: So I'll take that (inaudible). So can I ask you about North Korea, then?

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: -- that -- you-- tell me -- and let me get my bag. (Laughter.)

So what -- what else is on your mind?

Q: Can I ask something completely different, first?

SEC. MATTIS: Sure.

Q: So, although it wasn't a direct military event, when you saw -- saw Charlottesville unfold over the weekend -- we've now seen the CNO make a statement about his concern about it and that, you know, this would never be tolerated in -- (inaudible).

And – we know that the military has a longstanding policy on participation in extremist groups. And this person did serve four months in the U.S. Army. Do you have any thoughts about it, when you see this kind of thing going on, and people see people in military gear on the streets -- these -- these people?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, in America, you know, we can dress as we wish. I would just tell you, I was saddened by it, very saddened about what I saw. And as far as -- I don't know the circumstances around this young man's four months. I don't want to comment on it.

But, generally speaking, you know we don't sign people up for four-month tours of duty. So once the full reality is out, I'm sure you'll have an explanation how he came in and out. But I can't comment on it. Right now I just haven't seen it.

What else?

Q: Mr. Secretary, I think you were on vacation when the transgender thing came out.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.

Q: The -- the three tweets from the president -- and a lot of us were wondering, like, did -- had that taken -- had that taken you by surprise, or did you know that was coming, or what was the genesis of that? Because it certainly took a lot of us by surprise.

SEC. MATTIS: There was a fair amount of discussion about the transgender issue. As you know, under the policy that we inherited, something was supposed to happen at a certain time.

And I'd come out a short time before, unable to answer certain questions from the uniformed leadership, and without the people in my personnel department, the civilian oversight of policy in the military, due to the -- you know, the challenges we face trying to get people through the nomination and confirmation process. So I wanted the time to get them in, and to be able to answer those questions.

And so I knew the issue was bubbling in Washington. I've taken, inside the department, steps on it, but, as far as more broadly, that was the president's call.

Q: And had you -- have you been involved -- I mean, has there been subsequent direction from the White House, or is that still -- you know --

SEC. MATTIS: No, we're -- we're waiting on the -- the president's direction. I know that our people are engaged with the White House in -- in the drafting of that, and so I'm just waiting for it. I do not have it yet.

Q: So you -- so you do expect there to be -- you do expect there to actually be some guidance from the White House on it?

SEC. MATTIS: I have no doubt.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: (inaudible) Why not let the six months -- if you extended the review, why not let that six months bring back a full review of the policy decision before the president jumps in?

SEC. MATTIS: You all elected -- the American people elected the commander in chief. I -- they didn't elect me. So the commander in chief in our country and our system of government is elected by the people. He has that authority and responsibility. So that was fully within his responsibility.

Q: After President Trump made his Venezuela comments a lot of observers believe that Maduro was now further emboldened in what he was doing. Are you concerned when President makes comments like that, that it actually hurts your ability to your job?

SEC. MATTIS: No.

Q: Why not?

SEC. MATTIS: But I would also add that, you know, President Maduro has so disappointed his own people over years. I think that's his problem. He's got a fundamental political problem, which is none of his own people, or at least not very many of them, trust him.

Q: So do you think there's a military solution to this, or a U.S. military solution to this?

SEC. MATTIS: No, I don't -- I don't give them best short term.

Q: (Inaudible) -- you're not the first secretary of defense to confront the Korean issue . Have you been talking with some of your predecessors in terms of -- predecessors in terms of how they handled it? (inaudible) -- 1994, we almost went to war then.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, regarding -- yes, testing it in general, I talked to my predecessors, plural, and I do it routinely, both in person in my office, they visit me here, or I visit them in their home, and secretary -- former secretaries of state as well, national security advisers, plural. And Korean looms large in those discussions with all forms of predecessors.

Q: Have they given you any sense of the -- how they've handled it in -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, we go through in detail on how -- what were the situations they handled? What were the -- the specific problems within the broader situation and how they dealt with them successfully, or unsuccessfully? And it's been a very big help from them.

Q: Any advice that you would incorporated to you --

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.

Q: -- you have --

SEC. MATTIS: No.

Q: -- can give one --

SEC. MATTIS: No.

Q: -- general. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, last week, among the many things the president said was that he was close to a decision on Afghanistan.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I believe we are close. You know, it's one of those things -- you know the closer the get -- just go as -- you know out of the -- I'll just tell you that we are very, very close on this, and the president, as I told you before, has delegated a fair amount of tactical and operational decision making to me. He has not delegated one ounce of the strategic decision making, nor should he, nor would I expect that.

So that's where we're at. We're at the strategic decision making level, every element of the decisions.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Does very, very close mean this week?

SEC. MATTIS: I -- you know, I can only say very close.

Q: Has -- (inaudible) -- South Asia or Afghanistan?

SEC. MATTIS: I don't think you can separate the two.

Q: If it's that close, the decision making is that close, then why not if you feel that you -- you need to deploy some U.S. troops, why not get it started now? I mean, if it's -- if it's really just in the nuance, hasn't that part of the decision been made yet --

SEC. MATTIS: No.

Q: -- and why not? And if you have that authority --

SEC. MATTIS: No.

Q: -- so that part has still not been decided about deporting more U.S. troops?

SEC. MATTIS: No, the strategic decisions have not been decided, but we're very close.

Q: Does that mean a pullout? Is that one of the things you're talking about?

Q: Just to follow on David's question. About a week a half ago we announced that additional Marines would be going to Helmand. Could you talk about the decision to send those additional marines and how it fits into the larger context of security?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, they are force protection Marines. They're already in the theater, and we have some that go in and out. For some reason, that one made more attention than some of the others we've put in or pulled out.

It's not a significant change at all. It was simply a force-protection issue for a certain element, for a certain period of time. It was not a permanent plus-up or something like that.

I realize it got legs and got tracked, and suddenly people thought -- (inaudible) -- how close we are to a decision. You could think that, you know, maybe it's a big deal. It was not -- it was not a policy decision. It was a short term force protection issue.

Q: Do you see additional small plus-ups like this even as awaiting a larger strategy?

SEC. MATTIS: I think they could, but there're some that go down too. And we don't announce those either.

I prefer not to make a big deal of them, because I'm trying to not give the enemy the kind of detailed understanding of what we're doing and where we're doing it, like they sometimes have in the past.

Q: Do you support General Nicholson's thing?

SEC. MATTIS: Pardon?

Q: Do you support General Nicholson -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS: Of course.

Q: Mr. Secretary, does the Afghanistan strategy at this point contain any provisions for a significant number of contracted security forces or private security?

SEC. MATTIS: There are contracted security forces in certain locations. Some of them are NGOs. They have contracted people to be -- keep their workers safe against an enemy that clearly would go after people who are only humanitarian issues -- humanitarian aspects to their job, looking out for the Afghan people.

You're up against an enemy that -- that can violate every norm of civilized living. We've all known that there is a reason why in World War II our medics and Europeans, you know, wore a great big white circle with a red cross on it -- you know that sort of thing. This is an enemy that would make those targets. I'm saying those (inaudible), NGO people.

There's also some governmental organizations or locations that have got contracted security. There's some out there. Most of it is, I think -- I don't know this, but I would suspect that most of it is for NGOs and people like that, who need to contract the security because of the kind of enemy we're up against, even though they're trying to get food to refugees or medical care for people who don't have it.

Q: There's been a public discussion about significant increases like 5,000 -- 5,500 contracted security forces -- fleet, private air force --

SEC. MATTIS: Oh, oh, oh, OK. I'm sorry. I know what you're asking about now.

Again, the strategic decisions have not been made, but -- I don't know how to put this. I think that's all I want to say. The strategic decision has not been made. I wasn't answering your question earlier.

It's -- it's part of the options being considered. And the president's open to the advice of the secretary of state, and myself and the director of the CIA.

Q: Secretary, just to follow on that, sir: Will the number of private contractor forces still be publicly available?

SEC. MATTIS: I don't know. I don't know.

Q: So it's possible that there'll be an increase and the public won't know about it?

SEC. MATTIS: Oh, I see. Yes, I think if there were an increase, we'd tell you there's going to be an increase. We might not tell you which specific number's going where. But no, I mean we'd be -- we'd be open about -- transparent about that.

The only things that we're going to conceal are things that would directly help the enemy. But otherwise, we're proud of what we do and we'll tell you.

Q: And just to follow up, sir, on the op-ed that you penned today with Secretary Tillerson, why did you feel the need to write that, sir?

SEC. MATTIS: A couple of weeks ago, we were thinking it would be wise for us to put out something that shows how the State Department and the Defense Department work together. It's not one or the other, it's the two working together, the DOD buttressing State, State in the lead, and we just wanted to lay this out in a national forum so that we are open, and we're not -- so that we are being transparent, and to show the alignment between State and Defense under the president's policy.

Q: Was there anything that made you think that that was unclear beforehand?

SEC. MATTIS: I think that we have to be our own -- you can't just keep sending public affairs officers.

Where are they here?

STAFF: Right here, sir.

(UNKNOWN): Your new superstar, Rob Manning.

SEC. MATTIS: You can't just send public affairs officers out. We live in the Information Age, and part of having a public responsibility is having a public voice. And I try to stay out of your way most of the time, but in this case, I think it's necessary considering -- and by the way, we made this decision, so I would like to put that up over the weekend. OK, we made the decision some weeks ago, and you know, it had happened to have come out at this point, when obviously they'll be raising a high hover over North Korea, but it was not in response to something over the last couple of days or anything.

Q: Sir, (inaudible) United States had to use military force in Korea, would you have to go to Congress for a new authorization for the use of military force?

SEC. MATTIS: I'll leave that to the commander in chief and his relations with Congress.

Q: Can I ask you another one on North Korea? So I mean, there's no indication they're going to give up missile launches, right? I mean one has to assume -- I don't think that's hypothetical -- that they'll continue with that.

So if you -- can you -- if you can't be specific, can you at least talk about the concern that when they launch missiles from now on, that you will know in enough time, in plenty of time, that it's not headed to Guam, that it may just be some, you know, ratty old Scud or some other missile they're launching, that you'd feel confident you will know if and when it's towards Guam, if and when it's into the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea or you know -- because people are very concerned about this. So what can you tell people about your -- the ability of the U.S. military to know very quickly what is really happening?

SEC. MATTIS: We know within moments where it's going.

Q: That's an attempt, I assume, to reassure folks that, for example, if a missile headed toward Guam, you know it won't hit Guam. I think there's a concern, generally, just talking to my friends --

SEC. MATTIS: You said it's headed towards Guam, but it won't hit Guam?

Q: But it won't hit Guam. You know, there's talk of just aiming missiles near Guam --

SEC. MATTIS: We'll know if it's going towards Guam within moments.

Q: I think there's a general concern among my friends -- and I'm sure many others -- who don't follow this business as closely, that that sort of thing could escalate into war.

SEC. MATTIS: I think if they fire at the United States, it could escalate into war very quickly, yes. That's called war, if they shoot at us.

Q: Well, when you say that, Secretary Mattis, to follow up on him, so they typically very often have fired in a eastward trajectory. It's not unusual. They fire to the east.

SEC. MATTIS: We know swiftly after it's launched where it's going.

Q: But what -- you just said if they launched towards the United States -- (inaudible) --

SEC. MATTIS: No, no, no. If they -- if they shoot at the United States, I'm assuming they hit the United States.

Q: That's what I wanted to ask.

SEC. MATTIS: If they do that, then it's game on. We're going to try our best to make sure it does not hit the United States. But we'll know if that's where it's going.

Q: Guam is the United States.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, it sure is.

Q: OK. So if you assess the trajectory very quickly, hits Guam, I understand you to mean?

SEC. MATTIS: We'll take it out.

Q: If you assess the trajectory will fall into the sea somewhere short of Guam?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, then it becomes an issue that we take up however the president chooses.

Q: Sir, are you saying --

Q: Is that decided yet? If you cannot say --

SEC. MATTIS: No, you -- you can't make all those kinds of decisions in advance. There's a host of things going on. There's allies that we consult with, as the president made very clear last week. We talked about our allies repeatedly in a statement. That's something we have to think of. But we're getting into hypotheticals and this sort of thing.

It -- you know, I need a certain amount of ambiguity on this, because I'm not going to tell them what I'm going to do in each case.

Go ahead, there was another.

Q: Sir, if I can just kind of get some clarity on what role Russia has been playing in potentially aiding -- we have that comment from Secretary Tillerson. Is it your belief that Russia --

SEC. MATTIS: Aiding?

Q: Aiding North Korea and their missile development -- ballistic missile development.

SEC. MATTIS: Yeah, I'm not going to comment on that right now.

Q: Can I go back to Afghanistan then?

SEC. MATTIS: Sure.

Q: Does -- does the president have confidence in General Nicholson?

SEC. MATTIS: Ask -- ask the president. I will tell you right now, he is our commander in the field, he has the confidence of NATO, he has the confidence of Afghanistan, he has the confidence of the United States; and the president, again, is looking at all aspects of -- of our effort over there, as he must in his responsibilities as the commander in chief.

Q: Can I ask one more about the -- the force-management levels? It just seems like it's getting -- I know you're saying you want to be transparent about the capabilities of the Marine Corps, but it seems like it's getting less and less clear about exactly how many troops are on the ground in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, now that the -- you have these new authorities, you can -- the commander can move things around in --

SEC. MATTIS: He's always had that authority.

Q: Right, and then -- but I guess what I'm -- what I'm trying to get at is, I think we had talked to you about this months ago, about this being more transparent going forward; how many troops are actually on the ground. And I understand your concerns about the enemy, but we're just talking about a total number that are in the country. What's the real concern, without saying where they are? Like these -- (inaudible) --

SEC. MATTIS: I don't think we've had a concern. Haven't we told -- we had to change how they were accounting for them, because there were so many different pockets.

Q: Then how come we still don't know how many are really --

SEC. MATTIS: We in this building couldn't figure it out over the last -- and so that's what you were all dealing with for years. When we came in, there's some that were called -- I think it was BOG exempt.

STAFF: BOG, yes.

SEC. MATTIS: Exempt -- they were in the country but you didn't count them. And then there's the normal turnover, where troops come in, it doubles up wherever they're at, and those troops turn equipment in, and show them around and everything, and then they come out, and so like that.

So frankly, I had to change the accounting process because we couldn't figure out how many troops we had there. So believe me, I understand the problem. But once we know how many there are, hopefully we've told you what -- about what there is.

Q: No, we still get FML numbers, even though people openly say that the numbers aren't right. Like, that -- if you ask how many troops are --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: (Inaudible) -- thanks. I didn't know that was the case - can you see me by tomorrow morning, Dana...

STAFF: Yes, sir,

SEC. MATTIS: And let's see what we've got and talk to joint staff?

STAFF: Yes, sir.

SEC. MATTIS: Thanks. I didn't realize.

Q: I know you kind of want to preserve your ambiguity on North Korea, and maybe I'm dense and I'm just not picking up. But just following up on Dan's question, it's game on, you know, it's war, if you assess, in moments or swiftly, if that missile is heading towards Guam?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, listen. Up to -- war is up to the president, perhaps up to the Congress. The bottom line is we will defend the country from an attack.

Q: Would -- will you --

SEC. MATTIS: For us, that's war. That --

Q: -- and you --

SEC. MATTIS: That's a wartime situation.

Let's not -- let's not do this, OK, folks? Let's not start saying, "General Mattis said it's war," "Secretary Mattis said it's war."

Q: That's -- well, that's why I wanted to be clear.

SEC. MATTIS: We will defend the country -- hear me, now -- we will defend the country from any attack, from any time -- at any time, from any quarter. And, yes, that means, for a lot of young troops, they're going to be in a wartime situation. Welcome to reality.

But it is not declaring war. It's not that I'm over here, you know, Dr. Strangelove, you know, doing things like that, OK?

Q: But just on the assessment of the missile, if it does -- if it's aimed to -- fall 20 miles to the west of Guam --

SEC. MATTIS: I'm not going -- I'm not going to --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: -- how many miles they can get close.

Q: But that's the ambiguity, right? You're saying that you'll know within the -- in moments --

SEC. MATTIS: You don't shoot at people in this world. You don't shoot at people in this world, unless you want to bear the consequences. OK? All right.

Q: Can I ask a follow-on on the transgender -- (Laughter.)

SEC. MATTIS: You're saving us.

Q: (inaudible) It seems to me there are thousands of service members, active duty right now, who -- (inaudible) -- who felt safe to out themselves a year or two ago.

SEC. MATTIS: Thousands who've outed themselves? OK.

Q: Statistically, that sounds right.

SEC. MATTIS: Did -- what statistic? Just because I don't want to agree to something I'm not aware of.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: RAND Corporation, among others, put out studies.

SEC. MATTIS: I -- the statistics said between -- what was it, and what was it? What were the two numbers?

Q: Up to --

Q: Up to seven, right?

Q: It's up to 7,000.

SEC. MATTIS: Up to -- and what was the low end?

Q: I think it was 2,400, 2,500.

SEC. MATTIS: What does that tell you about the statistic?

Q: It's hard to tell.

Q: I mean, it tells us that we're in -- it tells us we're in the thousands.

Q: Hundreds, conservatively.

SEC. MATTIS: Perhaps. I cannot find the data to support it right now. So that's why I don't want to sign up for a number that I can find no rigor behind, which is -- and -- but that's -- it is what it is. Whatever the number is, your point is some people have come out.

Q: Right. They felt safe to do so.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.

Q: Based on where we are now, it seems to me that there is certainly a concern, and probably, in their minds, a threat that -- (inaudible) -- in two, three years basically they could be out on their butts tomorrow, or whenever the decision is made.

SEC. MATTIS: The chairman immediately went out and said everybody just stand fast until we get the direction. I understand that this is probably more about your suspicion about what could be coming, but the fact is we have received no direction that would indicate any harm to anybody right now.

Q: Do you have the sense that individuals currently serving will, at minimum, be able to finish their contracts?

SEC. MATTIS: I'm going to wait, again, until I get the direction from the White House, and then we will study it and come up with what the policy should be. But I'm not willing to sign up for the numbers you just used, and I'm not willing to sign up for the concern any of them have, considering what the chairman said. I'm not willing to pre -- what would it be -- prejudge what the study and -- will now bring out to the policy.

Q: OK.

Q: And, with all due respect, did the president not say that there will not be transgender persons in the United States military?

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: Again, I'm waiting, right now --

Q: He said it.

SEC. MATTIS: -- to get the president's guidance, and -- and that, I expect to be very soon.

Q: But did that sound like there's ambiguity with that statement, that it might not be banning all people --

SEC. MATTIS: I -- you know, I'm going to wait until the president comes in. There -- he's got his staff, his person -- his own staff -- (inaudible) -- White House staff is working it. I've got my people over there in the room to give them any military background that they might need, to inform them, but they write their own policy, of course.

So we're in a supporting role right now. And I -- soon we'll have the -- (inaudible) -- direction -- (inaudible) -- to answer your question.

Q: How -- how have things changed for you since General Kelly got -- came on board here as chief of staff?

SEC. MATTIS: Because we most -- work most of what we do here through the national security staff, which is under General McMaster, the process has continued the same. I can't really articulate --

Q: Do you think that General Kelly's presence brought any changes to the national security staff and those who speak on national security matters, like Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon? Have you seen any impact at all of General Kelly's presence?

SEC. MATTIS: We -- we don't work on who speaks at the White House; we work on the policy, and in that regard, the policy process and the -- the set series of meetings on important issues that start here, or moving here, and then come up to the cabinet level, and that has not --

Q: Sir, do you -- (inaudible) --

SEC. MATTIS: -- (inaudible) not telling --

Q: -- you're not telling them --

SEC. MATTIS: Pardon?

Q: You know him. You've known him for years. Don't you every talk to him, General Kelly?

SEC. MATTIS: Of course -- no. We talk routinely as he coordinates, yes.

Q: Thank you, secretary.

Q: Can I ask you, totally out of left field and totally out of my context --

SEC. MATTIS: We've had a couple of other left fields here --

Q: It's probably out of my comfort zone typically for this, but the Budget Control Act is going to expire pretty soon. It sounds like a Tony question, but I have -- (Laughter.)

Q: I'll see how it goes. -- (Laughter.)

Q: The (inaudible) act is going to expire. The situation looms again, all these automatic cuts. With all this on the -- on the table with North Korea and with ISIS, and with everything, I mean how -- I mean, how strong are you going to be lobbying with the Congress here to get a replacement, because it sounds like there might -- (inaudible) -- very quickly if these cuts come in the first quarter?

SEC. MATTIS: I think that's a fair statement what you just said, so you can imagine that we will be working with Congress. I wouldn't call it lobbying because it's almost like I'm calling others. You know, I'll be working especially with four committees, House and Center Armed Services, House and Senate Defense Appropriations, and of course with OMB in the White House, to try to avoid the damage that would exactly, as you said, cause -- hurt our regiments.

Q: And how confident are you that Congress can actually do something?

SEC. MATTIS: I -- I, you know, I save those kinds of feelings for others. I just do the job, (inaudible).

Q: OK. One last one on those strategic decisions, that I --

SEC. MATTIS: One question -- (Laughter.)

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Strategic decisions for the South Asia strategy, does that include all options being -- including a potential withdrawal of all --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: All options. And we had a question over here.

Q: Can I follow up on the budget question? What would be the effect of another continuing resolution on the military? It seems like it's very, very likely that will happen.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes. We can not start new programs, so where you're trying to adjust to the changing character of warfare -- electronic warfare, space issues, cyber issues, counter-UAS efforts -- you know, we've seen -- (inaudible) -- we cannot start those new programs. Plus it holds you in position, so American industry says, whoa, you know, I can start doing something here. And then there's no budget for it down the road, so I've just put a lot of money into my capital investment, and now, it's going to sit and idle. It just creates unpredictability. It makes us rigid. We cannot deal with new and revealing threats. We know our enemies are not standing still. Any press room in Washington, you know that better than any of the others. So it's about as unwise as can be.

Q: May I ask --

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF: -- time for one more question.

Q: (Inaudible) -- on the transgender series?

Are you confident that you will have an understanding on those numbers that you're not sure about now --

SEC. MATTIS: I think we'll have --

Q: -- before you have a change in the policy?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, that's a good question, because this is -- for many people this is a very private matter, and I respect that. So we will get as good a number as we can. But it's the -- it's -- the policy is going to address more than numbers, if you know what I'm driving at. It's --

Q: No, sir.

SEC. MATTIS: You don't? The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can serve under what conditions, what medical support they require, how much time would they be perhaps non deployable, leaving others to pick up their share of everything.
There's a host of issues. And I'm learning more about this than I ever thought I would. And it's obviously very complex, including the privacy issues, which we respect.

Q: So you are saying that you are still open to transgender persons serving in the U.S. military?

SEC. MATTIS: I'm saying we're going to study the issue.

Q: You are still studying the -- the possibility -- you are still open to studying the issue of transgender --

SEC. MATTIS: We are studying the issue.

Q: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Sir?

Q: Can you -- still on Afghanistan -- when you -- to Louis' question, you say that all options are still on the table. But then you said that they are very, very close.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes.

Q: How -- how is that? If it's very, very close to a decision but everything's still on the table?

SEC. MATTIS: You know it's -- that's the way it is. You know.

Q: Sorry, I mean I -- you gave me originally that we -- you were down to the minutiae of the --

SEC. MATTIS: We're sharpening each one of the options so you can see the pluses and minuses of each one, so that there's no longer any new data you're going to get. Now just make the decision. There's the options.

Q: So you're sharpening the options to provide to the president? So it's not that you're close to -- in the minutiae on one decision that you're refining, is it?

SEC. MATTIS: Oh no.

Q: You're still providing options to President Trump?

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, yes.

Q: I see. OK, thanks.

STAFF: So, sir, the chief is going to get mad at you.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: (inaudible) -- in your estimates to the Budget Control Act, you face a $65 billion cut. The sequestration cut hopefully would level when the House goes through, because what kind of damage is that going to do versus a continuing resolution, which actually gives you a little bit more money?

SEC. MATTIS: Well, we have, from both the Democrat and Republican sides of Congress a keen awareness and overwhelming support for strengthening our military.

You cannot do it. This is not about -- about opinion. This is not about effort. You cannot do what the Republican and Democrat members of Congress -- the response of people who look at the enemy threat and what's looming --

Q: Right.

SEC. MATTIS: -- to give those kinds of cuts.

Q: OK -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS: (Inaudible).

Q: Are you surprised that -- there's been no -- no movement to repeal the act? Everybody hates it, but nobody wants to get rid of it.

SEC. MATTIS: Yes, I think so.

Q: OK.

SEC. MATTIS: Well, thanks, everybody --

Q: Sir --

Q: Sir --

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Secretary Mattis, thank you for your time with this, sir.

Q: Yes.

Q: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS: You keep thanking me. I might come back. (Laughter.)