Vote on Giving Mattis a Waiver Seen for Next Congress
Trump’s pick to lead the Pentagon needs congressional exemption to serve
The decision on whether to give former Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis an exemption to serve as President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of Defense will fall to the next Congress, if some defense-minded lawmakers have their way.
House Armed Services Committee spokesman Claude H. Chafin told Roll Call on Monday that Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas is among those negotiating standalone legislation that would exempt Mattis from a law that prevents members of the military from taking one of the Pentagon’s top three civilian posts if they have actively served in the past seven years.
It is still possible that others in Congress may try to insert similar language in a continuing resolution to keep government agencies and programs funded past Dec. 9.
Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog,” left the service in 2013 after a three-year run as commander of the United States Central Command.
Trump will formally announce Mattis as his Defense secretary nominee on Tuesday evening at an event in North Carolina, transition aide Jason Miller said Monday.
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The congressional waiver would work around a provision in the 2008 defense policy law that requires the seven-year cooling-off period.
The legislation would be modeled on a similar measure passed in 1950 that allowed Gen. George C. Marshall to be appointed secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman. At the time, Congress amended a law that barred any person who was on active duty from serving as Defense secretary for 10 years.
According to Defense Department historical records, the Senate approved Marshall’s nomination quickly, but questions nonetheless percolated about whether a military leader should hold the post given the country’s tradition of civilian control of the military. Other senators questioned Marshall about his views on the sometimes rocky relationship between the departments of Defense and State.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has already signaled that he believes Mattis is the right man for the job and said he would move forward with the confirmation process “as soon as possible” in the new Congress.
At least one senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee opposes the selection of a former general officer to the Cabinet post.
“While I deeply respect General Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver,” Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said in a statement. “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”
John T. Bennett and Megan Scully contributed to this report.