Republican lawmakers have designed an accelerated procedure to grant a waiver for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to serve as defense secretary by including the matter in a must-pass spending bill likely to be approved by Friday night.
The bill would limit debate on the one-time waiver for Mattis to 10 hours, essentially curtailing in-depth discussion about how his appointment would affect the tradition of civilian control of the military.
The language is tucked into an emergency spending bill – known as a continuing resolution – that finances government operations into at least March. Most federal agencies will run out of money unless Congress passes the bill by Friday night.
Language in the spending bill appears airtight to prevent prolonged debate about Mattis, who retired in 2013 after a distinguished career that included campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan and a stint in charge of Central Command, the Tampa, Florida-based regional base for operations from the Middle East to Afghanistan.
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If approved, Mattis would become only the second recently retired military officer appointed as secretary of defense since Gen. George C. Marshall, the war hero named defense secretary in 1950, nearly five years after Marshall left active duty.
Lawmakers in 1947 approved the National Security Act, which required that the defense secretary be a civilian who had been out of the military for 10 years. Congress later cut the waiting period to seven years.
Mattis, who is held in high regard by Marines with whom he served, has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, although some lawmakers voice concerns about civilian control of the military.
“Civilian leadership of the military has been a cornerstone of our democracy since the Founders, and for good reason,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
The Senate spending bill said the 10 hours of debate allowed to discuss the nomination would be divided up by majority and minority leaders, and no motions to postpone a vote would be allowed. Following debate, a vote must take place. Passage requires two-thirds of the 100-seat chamber.