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Republicans seek to speed up approval for Mattis waiver in must-pass budget bill

Gen. James Mattis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Manama Dialogue in Manama, Bahrain, Dec. 4, 2010.

CASSANDRA FLOWERS/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2016

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress proposed legislation Tuesday that could speed up approval of a waiver for Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to be considered for defense secretary.

The legislation, which is opposed by some Democrats, is part of a federal budget bill that must be passed by the end of the week. It would allow the Senate to move quickly next year to exempt Mattis, who retired in 2013, from a law requiring any defense secretary nominee to be out of the military for seven years.

It could simplify the popular retired general’s nomination, announced Dec. 1 by President-elect Donald Trump, by avoiding lengthy debates in the House and Senate over amending the law. Mattis would still face a confirmation hearing and vote in the Senate after any waiver is passed.

Some Democrats said adding the waiver to the sprawling bill to keep the federal government funded after Friday limits needed debate on the nomination and the importance of civilian control of the Pentagon.

“Brushing aside the law that enshrines civilian control of the military – without discussion, in a massive must-pass funding bill – would set a terrible precedent,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a released statement. “It is troubling that Republicans are working so hard to shield President-elect Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense from the scrutiny and debate of Congress and the American people.”

A law requiring a 10-year gap between military service and defense secretary was passed in 1947 and Congress amended it to seven years in 2008. Gen. George C. Marshall was the only officer to receive a waiver and he served as defense secretary in the early 1950s.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has said she will oppose the general’s nomination and urged resistance.

“As we continue to debate a waiver for Gen. Mattis in the coming days, I urge my colleagues to oppose any attempts to ram this change through,” she tweeted Tuesday.

But the move by Republicans put Democrats in Congress in a tough political position -- few of them may be willing to scuttle the federal funding bill and risk a government shutdown just to oppose the Mattis waiver. The general’s widespread popularity could also make opposition risky.

Mattis, 66, spent more than four decades in the Marine Corps and has infantry leadership experience that includes leading troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His nomination raised widespread cheers among the military community, particularly Marines, where he is regarded as a strong, thoughtful leader known for colorful statements, such as PowerPoint presentations makes the military “stupid.”

“Our nation has been at war for more than 15 years with no end in sight. It makes perfect sense to put a warfighter in charge of the war fighting … and we urge Congress to approve his waiver and confirm him immediately,” Brian Duffy, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Monday.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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