Trump Team Confident Mattis Can Get Waiver to Serve as Defense Secretary

Incoming commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. James Mattis takes the flag from outgoing acting Lt. Gen. John Allen, center, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates looks at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., on Aug. 11, 2010. (Defense Department photo by Cherie Cullen)

WASHINGTON — A Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said she’ll try to stop a congressional exception to let retired Gen. James Mattis serve as Defense secretary.


U.S. Code says “a person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.”

Mattis, the former commander of United States Central Command, retired in 2013. Trump announced his intention to nominate Mattis to lead the Pentagon at an Ohio victory tour rally on Thursday evening.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Personnel, said, “While I deeply respect General Mattis’ service, I will oppose a waiver.”

“Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule,” Gillibrand said.

But the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he was “pleased” with the nomination and anticipated “moving forward with the confirmation process as soon as possible in the new Congress.”

“I have had the privilege of knowing General Mattis for many years. He is without a doubt one of the finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops,” McCain said. “General Mattis has a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the Department of Defense, the U.S. military, and our national security. America will be fortunate to have General Mattis in its service once again.”


Armed Services Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’s “confident the waiver allowing him to serve as secretary of Defense will be approved by Congress.”

“During his decades of service in the Marines, he was widely respected by the troops under his command and his peers in uniform. He has real-world experience combined with a keen intellect,” Graham said. “General Mattis will provide great leadership to the Department of Defense and President-elect Trump will find his advice to be invaluable.”

Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters on a call today that the transition team recognized that Mattis would need a waiver due to the 1947 law. “Almost immediately after passing the law, Congress granted an exception for General George Marshall,” he said, adding that the team has been assured McCain “is committed to marking up legislation to grant General Mattis a waiver as soon as possible.”

Asked about Gillibrand’s opposition, Miller only reiterated McCain’s comments.


The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee also praised the Mattis pick as “an excellent selection.”

“I will work with my colleagues in the coming days to clear the way for his confirmation by the Senate,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said. “I can think of no better partner for Congress to work with to support the men and women who serve and protect our nation’s security.”


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