WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense James Mattis clarified his political affiliation Monday amid speculation that he might be a Democrat and could soon depart his Pentagon post — suggestions made by President Donald Trump during an interview with CBS program "60 Minutes."
Reporters traveling with Mattis, en route to Vietnam, asked what he made thought of Trump's interview, which aired on Sunday.
"I'm on his team. We have never talked about me leaving and as you can see right here, we're on our way. We just continue doing our job," Mattis told reporters aboard a military aircraft.
"We continue in the Department of Defense to do our job. It's no problem," Mattis added, saying that he had not yet watched the CBS interview.
In a pre-taped interview, Trump said he was unsure whether Mattis would step down as the Pentagon's top official and noted that the retired four-star Marine Corps general might be a "sort of a Democrat."
"I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth. But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave," Trump said.
Below is an official transcript of the exchange Mattis had with reporters:
Reporter: Yeah. Mr. Secretary, are you a Democrat?
Secretary of Defense James Mattis: Pardon?
Reporter: Are you a Democrat?
Mattis: You know, we're all built on our formative experiences.
When I was 18, I joined the Marine Corps, and in the U.S. military we are proudly apolitical. By that, I mean that in our duties, we were brought up to obey the elected commander in chief, whoever that is. And we've seen, over those — since I was in the military longer than some of you have been alive, I have seen Republicans and Democrats come and go.
Where am I today? I'm a member of the president's administration. And you have seen that President Trump's military policies, security policies, reaping significant bipartisan support. So my role, when you see 83 percent — think about this — for — and I realize you all write about tension between this person and that, this administration and that party, and this sort of thing.
But when you think 83 percent of the U.S. Congress voting the same way on an issue put forward by the Republican president, you can see that my portfolio is bipartisan by its very basis, and that is the protection of the United States.
That's what President Trump has told me to do, and I eagerly carry that out, alongside probably the most selfless young men and women — not all young; some old men and women, too — civilian and military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines working together.
So that's where I stand. That defines me.
Reporter: I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but you haven't registered Republican or Democrat. Is that what I'm hearing you say?
Mattis: I've never registered for any political party.