Gillibrand doubles down on opposing waiver for Mattis after meeting

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is doubling down on her opposition to granting retired Gen. James Mattis a waiver to become Defense secretary after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Pentagon.

Gillibrand, who met privately with Mattis on Wednesday, said afterward she is firm in her opposition to waiving a law that requires Defense secretaries to be out of the military for at least seven years.

“He has served our country admirably,” Gillibrand said Wednesday. “He is well-regarded as an extraordinary general, and I am very grateful for that service, and I’m very grateful that he’s willing to continue his service for the president-elect. But I still believe that civilian control of our military is fundamental to the American democracy.”

{mosads}Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013. The 1947 law that established the Defense Department stipulated the Pentagon chief must be retired from active duty for at least 10 years, later reduced to seven years.

Congress waived the law once, for Gen. George Marshall in 1950.

The waiver needs to pass both chambers of Congress and will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.

So far, Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the only senator to explicitly say she’ll vote against the waiver.

Gillibrand said Mattis told her that he agreed that civilian control of the military is important. But that wasn’t enough to sway her opinion, she said, because the Defense secretary’s job requires an understanding of the civilian aspects of the Pentagon.

“They are going to manage, now, 3 million people; 700,00 of them are civilians,” she said. “Your job is far greater than deciding how to engage militarily. That is left to generals and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The secretary of Defense has a far greater range of responsibilities that is informed by civilian background and experience.”

Gillibrand said she did not know whether other senators will join her in opposing the waiver.

“You’ll have to ask them,” she said. “I just think it’s fundamental to the Constitution.”

In addition to civilian control of the military, Gillibrand said she and Mattis discussed women in the military, military sexual assault, terrorism, Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. 

“I thought he had some thoughtful ideas on national security,” she said. “I do have concerns about women in the military and how sexual assault in the military is being addressed. I’ll ask those questions specifically in the hearing so he can answer them for the record.”

Tags Donald Trump Kirsten Gillibrand
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