Confirmation likely for Mattis
Senate approves waiver for defense secretary nominee
WASHINGTON — Retired Gen. James Mattis on Thursday cruised toward likely confirmation as Donald Trump’s defense secretary, easily prevailing in a Senate vote granting him an exemption to run the Pentagon as a recently retired officer. At his confirmation hearing, he called Russia the nation’s No. 1 security threat, accusing its leader of trying to “break” NATO.
The Senate voted 81-17 to approve legislation overriding a prohibition against former U.S. service members who have been out of uniform less than seven years from holding the Defense Department’s top job. The restriction is meant to preserve civilian control of the military. The House Armed Services Committee backed the waiver in a 34-28 vote; the full House will take up the matter Friday.
Mattis, 66, spent four decades in uniform, retiring in 2013 with a reputation as an effective combat leader and an astute strategist. Separate from the override legislation, the Senate will vote later on Mattis’ nomination and will almost certainly confirm him.
The only other exception to the seven-year rule was made for the legendary George Marshall in 1950, the year Mattis was born. Even some of Trump’s strongest critics have supported the waiver for Mattis, arguing that his experience and temperament can serve as a steadying influence on a new president with no experience in national security.
It was unclear if President Barack Obama would sign the legislation allowing Mattis to take up the post, or if it would fall to Trump after his inauguration.
At an uncontentious confirmation hearing, Mattis sketched an international security scene dominated by dark images of an aggressive Russia, resurgent China and violent Mideast. He described Iran as a major destabilizing force, called North Korea a potential nuclear threat and said the U.S. military needs to grow larger and readier for combat.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, welcomes Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis on Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington.