January 17, 2017

Whitehouse Votes to Allow Mattis to Serve

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) voted today in favor of a one-time waiver of the law prohibiting recently retired military officers from serving as Secretary of Defense, in order to permit the appointment of retired Marine Gen. James Mattis by President-elect Donald Trump.  Current law bars the appointment of any individual to head the Defense Department within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the armed forces.  Since Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013, after more than 40 years of service, he requires a waiver of that limitation to be confirmed.  The Senate voted 81-17 in favor of the waiver.

Whitehouse said that while he remains firmly committed to the Constitutional principle of civilian control of the military, the unique circumstances of this appointment ultimately justified making a one-time exception to the seven-year rule.  “General Mattis has a long record of selfless service to the country, and I hope he can serve as a check when the President-elect’s bad instincts threaten to lead our country into danger.  That’s why I voted in favor of granting an exception to the law and allowing his nomination to go forward.”

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Professor of Strategic Studies Eliot Cohen, who served as Counselor to the State Department under President George W. Bush, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week on his support for an exception to the provision.  “I have sharply criticized President Obama’s policies, but my concerns pale in comparison with the sense of alarm I feel about the judgment and dispositions of the incoming White House team,” he said.  “In such a setting, there is no question in my mind that a Secretary Mattis would be a stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening, and over time, helping to steer American foreign and security policy in a sound and sensible direction.”

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure on Friday.


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