WASHINGTON — After meeting with retired Gen. James Mattis on Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand repeated her opposition to granting a legal waiver on civilian control of the military to allow him to serve as President-elect Donald Trump’s Defense secretary.
Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, praised Mattis after she met with him privately in her Capitol Hill office for nearly an hour in preparation for confirmation hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee, one of the panels on which she serves.
“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,” she said.
“But I still believe that civilian control of our military is fundamental to the American democracy,” said Gillibrand, who is the only senator who said she’ll vote no on a waiver.
Nicknamed “Mad Dog,” the four-star general retired in 2013 as commander of the U.S. Central Command. For his nomination to be confirmed, Congress would have to pass a waiver to the amended 1947 law that requires the Defense secretary be retired from active duty for seven years. Congress has waived the law only once, for Gen. George C. Marshall in 1950.
Other Democrats say they have concerns about the waiver but think the straight-talking Mattis could play an important role by being willing to stand up to Trump, and Trump’s choice for national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn.
“Gen. Mattis has a deep and insightful appreciation of the need for care and caution in the use of military power, a perspective that could provide a sense of balance and stability in a Trump administration,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.) after meeting with Mattis Tuesday. Blumenthal said he hasn’t made up his mind about the waiver.
Gillibrand said she looks forward to expert testimony at the confirmation hearing on the need for a civilian military chief.
She also intends to question Mattis at the hearing about her bill to shift decision-making on sexual assault prosecutions from commanders to military lawyers.