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US President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday he has picked tough-talking retired general James Mattis to be his defense secretary as he soaked up adulation at a large Ohio rally where he pledged to unite the nation.
The splash of hard news came during a sea of soaring — and then blunt — rhetoric from the 70-year-old Republican billionaire, who was speaking at his first post-election event following days of meetings about forming his cabinet.
“We are going to appoint ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump told cheering supporters in Cincinnati, referring by nickname to the four-star Marine general who headed the US Central Command, giving him authority over troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He’s our best. They say he’s the closest thing to (World War II-era) general George Patton that we have,” Trump said, apparently divulging his pick days ahead of schedule as his transition team had already said there would be no more cabinet announcements this week.
Mattis will require both Senate confirmation and a special waiver of a law that bans uniformed military officers from serving as secretary of defense for seven years after leaving active duty.
At the start of his address, Trump launched lofty calls to unite what he called a “very divided nation” and reject “bigotry and prejudice in all of its forms.”
He even vowed to try to work with Democrats to end gridlock on Capitol Hill.
But the Manhattan property mogul, who defeated Hillary Clinton last month to win the White House, rather dramatically returned to the brash and abrasive tone that marked his controversial and ultimately victorious campaign.
He savaged the nation’s political press, slammed illegal immigration and the country’s refugee program, mocked his critics and vowed to “drain the swamp” in establishment-heavy Washington.
It became a loose, swerving speech that kicked off what his team has branded a “thank you tour” — a victory lap of sorts that will take him to several political battlegrounds including Ohio, perhaps the nation’s ultimate swing state.
“I love you Ohio, this is a great place,” the populist political novice said to a loud cheer from a crowd that filled roughly half of the US Bank Arena, which has a capacity of about 17,000. Trump lamented the roadblocks in place around the venue, which he said kept attendance down.
“You went out and you pounded the pavement… and propelled to victory a grassroots movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” he said.
The tone was decidedly more boastful than his afternoon appearance in neighboring Indiana, where he visited a company and claimed credit for saving American jobs.
He then issued a stark warning to other US firms that they will face consequences if they relocate abroad.
The president-elect, who made guaranteeing jobs for blue-collar American workers a key plank of his campaign, strode triumphantly through an Indiana factory that makes Carrier air conditioners, trumpeting a deal to keep 1,100 manufacturing positions from being shifted to Mexico.
The maverick tycoon glad-handed workers on an assembly line before defending his negotiation with the company.
“I think it’s very presidential. And if it’s not presidential, that’s OK because I like doing it,” Trump said.
“But we’re going to have a lot of phone calls made to companies when they say they’re leaving this country because they’re not going to leave this country.”
During the race, the Republican billionaire threatened to slap tariffs on firms that decamped for places like Mexico or Asia where labor costs are cheaper.
It became a refrain of his victorious campaign, during which he repeatedly leaned on Carrier not to ship a planned 2,000 jobs to Mexico.
“Companies are not going to leave the United States any more without consequences. Not going to happen,” Trump said as Greg Hayes, chairman of United Technologies Corporation which owns the Carrier brand, looked on.
“You don’t have to leave anymore. Your taxes will be at the very low end and your unnecessary regulations will be gone,” he said, repeating campaign promises to cut corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 15 percent and curb regulations on industry.
Carrier has announced that it will preserve more than 1,000 jobs and continue to manufacture gas furnaces in Indianapolis, thanks to $7 million in state incentives. Hundreds of jobs will still be moved to Mexico.
Critics are fearful that workers’ rights may not be adequately protected, or that the deal may embolden other firms to threaten to relocate jobs.
Trump “has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives,” Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont and prominent Trump critic, wrote in a stinging op-ed in Thursday’s Washington Post.
Sanders had challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in a bruising battle, but not nearly as vicious as the fight the former secretary of state had against Trump in the general election, it turned out.
“We did have a lot of fun fighting Hillary, didn’t we?” Trump said with a smile in Cincinnati as his supporters cheered.