Tillerson says Qatar blockade ‘hindering’ military operations

Defense Secretary James Mattis makes his first appearance before the House Armed Services Committee tonight.

It’s his second appearance on Capitol Hill since his confirmation, and the first chance lawmakers will have to grill him since the Trump administration released its full fiscal 2018 budget proposal.

Monday’s hearing is the first in a four-day Capitol Hill tour by Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. They’ll be at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday and the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on Thursday.

President Trump’s $603 billion base defense budget request was well below the $640 billion defense hawks wanted. House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal this weekend reiterating his concerns with the lower number, telegraphing how tonight’s hearing might go.

In addition to the budget, several defense issues have arisen in recent weeks lawmakers will surely press Mattis and Dunford on.

Trump continues to weigh whether to send more troops to Afghanistan as three U.S. soldiers were killed there this weekend and a U.S. convoy was hit by a bomb Monday.

The growing crisis around Qatar is also likely to be raised by lawmakers after Trump appeared to contradict Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call for an ease to the blockade, and Tillerson appeared to contradict the Pentagon’s assurances that it has not affected the U.S. base there.

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