WASHINGTON -- Republicans in Congress on Tuesday added a waiver to allow Gen. James Mattis to be considered as defense secretary into a federal budget bill that must be passed by the end of the week.
The legislation, which was added over objections by Democrats, would give Mattis an exception to a law requiring any defense secretary nominee to be out of the military for seven years by shortening the requirement to just three years. Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.
If passed, the waiver would simplify the popular retired general's nomination next year by requiring only Senate hearings and confirmation, rather than additional debate in both chambers of Congress over loosening the seven-year rule. President-elect Donald Trump announced the Mattis nomination Dec. 1.
However, Democrats said adding the waiver to the sprawling bill to keep the federal government funded after Friday limits needed debate on the nomination and the importance of civilian control of the Pentagon.
"Brushing aside the law that enshrines civilian control of the military -- without discussion, in a massive must-pass funding bill -- would set a terrible precedent," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a released statement. "It is troubling that Republicans are working so hard to shield President-elect Trump's choice for Secretary of Defense from the scrutiny and debate of Congress and the American people."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, has said she will oppose the general's nomination and urged resistance.
"As we continue to debate a waiver for Gen. Mattis in the coming days, I urge my colleagues to oppose any attempts to ram this change through," she tweeted Tuesday.
But the move by Republicans put Democrats in Congress in a tough political position -- few of them may be willing to scuttle the federal funding bill and risk a government shutdown just to oppose the Mattis waiver. The general's widespread popularity could also make opposition risky.
Mattis, 66, spent more than four decades in the Marine Corps and has infantry leadership experience that includes leading troops during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His nomination raised widespread cheers among the military community, particularly Marines, where he is regarded as a strong, thoughtful leader known for colorful statements, such as PowerPoint presentations make the military "stupid."
"Our nation has been at war for more than 15 years with no end in sight. It makes perfect sense to put a warfighter in charge of the war fighting ... and we urge Congress to approve his waiver and confirm him immediately," Brian Duffy, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said Monday.