One result of Republicans winning the White House and maintaining control of the Senate is most of Trump’s nomination will sail through confirmation. That’s because back in 2013, the Senate changed its rules to only require a simple majority instead of a supermajority (or 60 votes). In the case of Gen. James Mattis, however, special circumstances surrounding his nomination might give Democrats an opportunity to block his nomination.
Mattis is a well respected retired general, but the issue with his nomination is he’s only been out of the military for four years. The problem arises because there’s a requirement for high ranking officials to have been out of the military for seven years before taking civilian positions. As a result, there will have to be legislation passed allowing Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense.
Not only will this mean Trump has to get eight Democrats to vote in favor of letting the legislation through, but House Democrats will also have an opportunity to weigh in. And they already have started voicing their opinion.
Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, for instance, released a statement saying that he greatly admires Mattis but is worried about the precedent his nomination sets.
“General Mattis has served the United States tirelessly, with admirable distinction,” Smith said. “However, the unusual circumstances of his nomination raise serious questions about fundamental principles of our Constitutional order. Civilian control of the military is not something to be casually cast aside. So while I like and respect General Mattis a great deal, the House of Representatives would have to perform a full review, including hearings by the Armed Services Committee, if it were to consider overriding the statutory prohibition on recent military officers serving as the Secretary of Defense.”
The fact that Smith goes on “to reiterate how much [he] admires General Mattis” and that he’s “worked with him personally” before goes to show that this isn’t about Mattis’s qualifications to be Secretary of Defense. It’s about making sure we maintain civilian control of the Defense Department — something even veterans maintain is a crucial issue.
Based upon what I’m hearing and reading, most of the Democratic leadership hasn’t taken a stance quite yet on how to handle the General’s nomination. Nobody wants to be seen as tying up our national security for political reasons, something the Trump Administration would likely try to make any opposition out to be. But, as Rep. Smith points out, there truly should be “a full review” before “overriding” the current laws.