Trump Formally Announces Mattis as SecDef Choice

Retired Marine general garners broad support, pushback from few Democrats

Donald Trump,James Mattis
President-elect Donald Trump introduces retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as his appointed Secretary of Defense / AP
December 6, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump formally announced retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as his choice for secretary of defense on Tuesday.

"We need to find the right person to lead our Defense Department. This is why I am proud to formally announce today my intention to nominate Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis at the next secretary of defense of the United States of America," Trump said at a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday night, not far from the U.S. Army base Fort Bragg.

Trump described Mattis as "one of the most effective generals that we have had in many, many decades" who has "committed his life to his love for our country."

Mattis delivered very brief remarks after Trump, expressing his excitement about being named to lead the Pentagon.

"I look forward to be the civilian leader, as long as Congress gives me the waiver and the Senate votes to consent," Mattis told the crowd.

The retired four-star general has been praised by lawmakers, current and former officials, and experts as a qualified choice to lead the Pentagon in the Trump administration. Current Defense Secretary Ash Carter signaled his support for Mattis on Saturday, describing the retired general as a friend.

"I'm committed to overseeing the orderly transfer to the next commander in chief," Carter said during a speech in California at the Reagan Defense Forum. "Let me also congratulate General Jim Mattis for being chosen to take my place. I've worked with Jim for many years. He's a friend and I hold him in the highest regard."

Congress will need to pass a waiver to allow Mattis to serve in Trump's cabinet, which is required for military personnel who have not been separated from the military for seven years to fill senior defense positions.

Earlier before Trump's appearance at the rally, House Republicans slipped language into a continuing resolution to fund the government that would expedite consideration of a waiver for Mattis' appointment.  The short-term funding bill must pass for the government to be funded beyond Friday.

A couple of Democratic lawmakers have already pledged to oppose a waiver, though some colleagues in the party have expressed support for Mattis as defense secretary and others have remained silent.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, vowed last week to oppose the waiver, and she was joined by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.), a Marine Corps veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Leon Panetta, who served as defense secretary under the Obama administration, recently told the Washington Post that Congress should pass the waiver so Mattis can lead the Pentagon.

"It's important that the Congress in the process of providing that waiver makes sure that Jim Mattis understands that he has to play a role not just on the military side but also on the civilian side. I think he does," Panetta told the Post over the weekend.

If the waiver passes on a 60-vote threshold vote, Mattis will advance to his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Reports surfaced last Thursday that Trump had picked Mattis to serve as his defense secretary, which Trump confirmed at a rally in Cincinnati later that evening.