Senate Committee Approves Mattis as Next Defense Secretary

Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis testifies on Capitol Hill on Jan. 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis testifies on Capitol Hill on Jan. 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis cleared another hurdle Wednesday in becoming the nation's 26th secretary of defense but it was unclear exactly when he will get almost certain confirmation by the full Senate.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 26-1 to approve Mattis to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, was the lone "No" vote.

By law, Mattis cannot be officially nominated as Defense Secretary until President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in at noon Friday, and it was not clear that the Senate could be convened during the parade and partying that follows the inauguration on the west front of the Capitol.

President Barack Obama also has yet to sign the special legislation granting Mattis a waiver to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter but he was expected to do so before leaving the White House Friday.

The 66-year-old Mattis needed the waiver to get around the World War II-era law barring those in the military from taking cabinet posts until at least seven years after retirement. Mattis retired in 2013 as head of U.S. Central Command.

The law was passed to preserve civilian control of the military and the only previous waiver went to Gen. George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff in World War II.

Gillibrand cited civilian control of the military as her reason for voting against Mattis on the Committee.

"Sen. Gillibrand voted 'No' on Gen. Mattis' confirmation in committee today because she believes civilian control of the military is fundamental," her office said in a statement.

The senator also voted "No" in the panel's 24-3 vote last week on the waiver. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, joined Gillibrand in voting "No."

The full Senate last week voted 81-17 to grant Mattis the waiver. The House voted 268-151 on the waiver.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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