Trump’s DefSec: How do you like me now?

Winning Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins asked that question of the team general manager immediately after an impressive win Sunday night.

“How do you like me now?”

He didn’t quite ask it. More accurately, he  shouted it out as a declarative. He put the emphasis on “now.” It will go down in Washington lore. In D.C. sports it will rank up there with Bryce Harper’s: “That’s a clown question, bro.”

Cousins created a versatile question. The next defense secretary will probably be asking himself a version soon. “How do I like it now?” Whomever President-elect Donald Trump ends up nominating — retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis was the favored one on Monday — will find himself in a pressure cooker. He’ll have faced a difficult confirmation hearing. He’ll walk into a confusing budget situation, with remnants of sequestration and a supposed two-year-old budget “deal” in place, and disagreement in Congress over both the base DoD budget and the Overseas Contingency Operations budget. Soon everyone will be asking, I wonder how he likes it now?

Secretary X will have to deal with Trump’s stated desire to finish off the Islamic State, reset the relationship with a highly belligerent Russia, and deal with other possible threats such as China, Iran and the cast of “Hamilton.” All with an Army slated to drop to 450,000 active duty troops and badly in need of a modernization strategy.

Then there’s the issue of new platforms. As Jim McAleese — one of the more gifted defense analysts in town — points out, Republicans will move to extend the continuing resolution to the end of March to maximize their leverage under the Trump administration. But that could cause hundreds of millions in penalty payments to Boeing for a delay in purchases of the KC-46 tanker — acquisitions years late already. It will delay a time-sensitive design contract for Columbia class submarines.

The next defense secretary can also expect lots of pressure from Capitol Hill, which in turn will find itself under minor siege by defense industry lobbyists. They’ll push for an almost Reagan-like restoration of procurement budgets. Evidence: McAleese says investors who were expecting at best 2 percent growth now are looking for 3 percent in 2017 — and as much as 5 percent to 7 percent thereafter. McAleese himself is more conservative, predicting 1-2 percent in 2017 and 3 percent in 2018. After all, the Republican majority is slim, and not all of them will necessarily go along.

The question will be on the secretary’s mind in a future Oval Office meeting with a president known to be impatient and wanting to see things happen fast. How DO you like me now?

More commentary


Sign up for breaking news alerts