Gillibrand Remains Opposed to Mattis Waiver After Meeting

Defense Secretary-designate, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis meets with Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Defense Secretary-designate, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis meets with Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Defense secretary nominee James Mattis appeared on Capitol Hill for a second day in a row Wednesday, meeting with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a wide-ranging discussion of his policy views and the issue of civilian control of the military.

Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, has maintained she will oppose a waiver that would allow Mattis, who retired from the Marine Corps as a general in May 2013, to serve in the position despite a law that requires the defense secretary to have been out of the military for at least seven years before assuming the role.

Emerging from the closed-door meeting after 45 minutes, Gillibrand told reporters she will continue to oppose the waiver, emphasizing her belief in civilian leadership.

"And when we created the secretary of defense and when we created the Department of Defense, Congress very intentionally said the secretary of defense will also be a civilian to be consistent with our constitutional requirements of civilian control of the military," she said. "We believe that should not be changed."

While Gillibrand would not reveal any views Mattis shared during the meeting, she said the discussion ranged from terrorism to foreign policy to women serving in the military, hinting that the latter topic had highlighted differences of perspective between her and the nominee.

"I do have some concerns about women in the military and how sexual assault in the military would be addressed, and I'll ask those questions in the hearing specifically so he can answer them for the record," she said.

"I discussed some of the great work that women in the military have already done ... specifically the three women who just passed [Army] Ranger School and how admirable and inspiring those women are, and really highlighted some of the studies about how effective women are in combat in the military, which skills they bring to the table that are unique and different and really valuable," the senator added.

Mattis, she said, had given general views on the topics, though she did not elaborate on those views.

"But I'll ask much more specific questions at the hearing," she said.

Gillibrand said the issue of sexual assault in the military had also been discussed, and she had reiterated her belief in the importance of moving the prosecution process outside the chain of command to increase professional knowledge in handling of the cases and to eliminate bias.

"I think we had a full discussion, and I hope he keeps an open mind," she said.

Gillibrand declined to name other senators who will stand with her in opposing the waiver. It's likely, however, that the move to oppose will be only a symbolic gesture. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have voiced support for Mattis, who distinguished himself in the military, most recently commanding U.S. Central Command.

To pass the waiver, only 60 of the 100 members of the Senate must approve the measure.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@HopeSeck.

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