The House of Representatives voted 268-to-151 Friday to exempt retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis from the National Security Act, which prohibits military officers from serving as Secretary of Defense within seven years of their leaving military service.
Thirty-six Democrats voted with Republicans, Rep. Justin Amash (R.-Mich.) being the only GOP congressman to oppose the waiver.
“There’s only one precedent before us, that was 1950 with General Marshall,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R.-Texas), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The appointment of Gen. George C. Marshall came on the heels of the resignation and suicide of the first Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal, and the military reverses in the Korean War.
When Marshall was given a waiver, he did not testify before the House and did not come to Capitol Hill until the waiver was granted and he could then proceed to his confirmation hearings, Thornberry said.
Thornberry said it is important to have Mattis on the job as soon as President-elect Donald J. Trump’s term begins.
“I hope that we don’t have a national security crisis on Jan. 20 or 22, but the fact is, unless we pass this bill today, we are not able to have a secretary of defense on Jan. 20,” he said. The House will not be conducting regular business from the end of Friday’s session until Jan. 23.
The most vocal opponent of the waiver is Rep. Reuben Gallego (D.-Ariz.), a Marine veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Gallego told Breitbart News shortly before the vote that he was a fan of Mattis, personally, but he was concerned that granting the waiver to Mattis, who retired in 2013, would lead to more exceptions to the law, which would jeopardize the civilian culture at the top of the Pentagon.
The congressman, who voted against the waiver in the House Armed Services Committee, said he questioned the allegiances of veterans leaving the military—whether they be to their own branch or to the military itself—and not to civilian leadership.
“Mattis is not the danger,” he said. “It is the precedent that we are setting.”
The Marine veteran said, “We have to be very careful when we do these kind of actions, so people recognize that changing tradition and the norms of civilian control of the military is something that should be done very carefully and not that often.”
The waiver for Gen. Mattis is just another example of Donald Trump thinking the rules that his predecessors followed shouldn't apply to him. pic.twitter.com/S9NfpM49OK
— Ruben Gallego (@RepRubenGallego) January 13, 2017
Gallego said he does not want to cheat the Pentagon out of great leaders, but the law applies to the top job and he does not want to change the law. “Anywhere else? I don’t think that restriction should exist.”
Another Democrat leading the opposition was the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).
“While I have an enormous amount of respect for General Mattis,” said Smith on the House floor shortly before the vote, “I will point out that General Mattis is not God.”
Jones said, “As we listen to people talk about how we absolutely have to have somebody from the warrior class to lead us–we have to have him in order to protect us from this dangerous world–that sort of language makes me a little nervous.”
President-elect Donald J. Trump is sworn into office Jan. 20 and Mattis is considered one of the first of the cabinet officers to be confirmed by the Senate.