GOP shouldn't play politics with Mattis pick
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Now that retired Gen. James Mattis has been appointed by President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE to be the next secretary of Defense, it will be up to the U.S. Senate to take up his nomination as soon as the pomp and circumstance of Inauguration Day is over.

This time, however, Mattis will be going where no other Cabinet appointee has gone before since Gen. George Marshall in September 1950.

Mattis, a man who ended his stellar 41-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps as the head of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, is more than qualified for the post. He's a legend with his fellow Marines, commonly described as a strategic thinker who often tells his superiors the unvarnished truth and what they don't want to hear, and has interacted with his fellow generals and diplomats the world over during his three-year stint as commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

All of these attributes are a given, but what isn't certain is whether congressional Democrats will use the understandable concerns of civilian control of the military in order to block the legislation required in order for Mattis to take his post at the Pentagon.

Notwithstanding Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women ‘Abolish ICE’ is going to hurt Democrats in the midterms 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser MORE's (D-N.Y.) statement that civilian control of the military is too important a concept to allow a general three years removed from the services to lead the Defense Department, it's unlikely that Democrats in the House and Senate would actually filibuster Mattis's nomination.

Republicans, however, don't need to rub salt in the wounds.

Trump's nomination of Mattis has unearthed a very healthy commentary over the past week about the history of civil-military relations in the United States and whether a former general directing operations at the Pentagon is akin to breaking that historical tradition.

Kori Schake, a fellow at the Hoover Institute and an expert who wrote a book with Mattis, writes that Mattis "is a model of American civil-military comportment on both sides of the civil-military divide," and that concern shouldn't even be an issue if Congress vets him thoroughly during the confirmation process.

Phillip Carter and Loren DeJonge Schulman disagree, arguing in The Washington Post that the Mattis pick is just one general too much in a prospective Trump Cabinet. Besides, Carter and Schulman write, "[g]reat generals don't always make great cabinet officials."

All of these issues should be debated in the open when the new Congress is sworn in next year. What shouldn't happen is what the Republican-controlled Congress has decided to do as we speak: Easing the road for Mattis by tucking a changing of the rules provision into a 70-page temporary spending bill — a bill, by the way, that Congress must pass if it wants the federal government to remain open during the holiday season.

Democrats have already signaled that such a move would be wholly unprecedented in the history of the U.S. Senate. According to Sen. Richard DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Too many Americans go to prison but Congress can fix this problem This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (D-Ill.), the minority whip, changing the rules on a very important nomination and thereby short-circuiting the process would be a "mistake," one that he "can't remember ... ever being done before."

Whether or not it's been done before, though, is beside the point.

We aren't talking about the secretary of Housing and Urban Development or the secretary of the Interior here (no disrespect to former, current and future sectaries of those departments), but rather the secretary of Defense — the man or woman designated by the 1947 National Security Act as "the principal assistant to the President in all matters relating to the national security."

This is the man or woman who recommends the department's best judgment as to whether the use of U.S. military force overseas is needed to defend the United States and its interests from threats across the globe.

He's also the man or woman who signs the deployment orders, writes the condolence letters, visits the cemeteries of the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery, visits the wounded at Walter Reed and decides how the billions of dollars appropriated by the Congress each year will be spent.

Given how important the position is and how much responsibility is invested in the person who holds it, Congress shouldn't speed up the confirmation process for any nominee — particularly when a bill funding the federal government is the vehicle that lawmakers hope to use to accomplish it.

Republican leadership in the House and Senate should deal with Mattis's nomination in the right way. Let's wait for the new Congress to gavel in. Let's hold a standalone debate on the legislation that would permit Mattis to serve as a civilian after being retired from the armed forces for only three years.

And let's not leave Washington for the holiday by poking Democrats in the eye and daring them to oppose the nomination at the risk a government shutdown.

We shouldn't be playing politics with national security.

Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities. Follow him on Twitter @DanDePetris.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.