Panetta: Dems should give Mattis waiver to head Defense

Panetta: Dems should give Mattis waiver to head Defense
© Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Democrats should approve a waiver allowing retired Marine Corps. Gen. James Mattis to serve as President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE’s secretary of Defense.

President Obama's former Defense secretary called a 1947 law requiring military officials be out of uniform for at least seven years before being allowed to lead the Pentagon "arbitrary." Mattis retired in 2013 after leading U.S. Central Command.

“It’s important that the Congress in the process of providing that waiver makes sure that Jim Mattis understands that he has to play a role not just on the military side but also the civilian side,” Panetta said in a Washington Post interview published Tuesday. "I think he does."


“That was in a time coming out of WWII when there was a tremendous reliance on military leadership during the war and a recognition that they were warriors while the people considering defense policy had to consider wider issues,” Panetta said of the law, which initially mandated a separation of 10 years between the military and the Pentagon before ultimately being limited to seven years.

“I believe that civilian control and civilian involvement in the Defense Department is an important principle, but I also don’t think a military background should be disqualifying," he said.

Panetta, who served as secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013, added Mattis earned a reputation for unflinching honesty within the current administration.

“Sometimes his attitude rubbed people in the White House the wrong way, because he was aggressive,” Panetta said. "It never made him hesitate to keep saying what he believed was necessary. You wanted Jim Mattis in the room, because he spoke truth to power.”

Trump’s transition team is promoting Panetta’s remarks amid growing debate over the president-elect’s pick of Mattis to lead the Pentagon.

Trump confirmed Mattis as his pick to helm the Defense Department last week after previously praising the former military official as “the real deal” following a meeting in November.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Social media responds to Harris making history: 'I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing' Ocasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a former Marine, have each said they would oppose such an exception for Mattis.