A Democratic lawmaker and Marine Corps veteran has pledged to oppose a congressional waiver for retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to become defense secretary in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.) joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) in refusing to support a waiver, which is required by law for military personnel who have been separated from service for less than seven years to fill senior defense posts.
Trump confirmed last Thursday that he intends to appoint Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, to lead the Pentagon. Mattis has been widely praised by current and former defense secretaries as well as Democratic and Republican officials.
But Gallego echoed Gillibrand in emphasizing the importance of "civilian leadership" of the U.S. military.
"As a fellow Marine, I greatly admire General James Mattis' dedication and leadership. We all should be incredibly grateful for his many years of service to our nation," Gallego said in a statement Monday afternoon.
"As a veteran, I believe strongly in the principle of civilian leadership of the military. Current law requires that a military officer be out of active duty for at least seven years before taking the job of defense secretary," Gallego continued. "I do not believe this long-standing check should be cast aside, and I will oppose a waiver of this rule, even for someone as exceptionally qualified as General Mattis."
Gallego's comments were met with immediate criticism from Marine Corps veterans in Arizona who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
Bill Sahno, a 30-year career Marine who retired in 1991 as a colonel, told the Free Beacon that he was angered by the congressman's statement.
"Rep. Gallego would do well to reconsider his stance in light of what is best for our country not just a ‘long standing check,'" Sahno said. "There may well have been good reasons for establishing this law however, that does not mean to say that there are bona fide exceptions which must be considered."
"His present stance is not representative of what is best for our military or our country, and that is from one Marine to another," Sahno continued. "Let's see what his constituents have to say about his stance."
Brandon Coleman, a Marine Corps veteran who works as an addiction therapist at the Anthem VA, suggested that Gallego is putting politics over the well-being of the country.
"I could not disagree more with Representative Gallego on his stance and it looks like he is putting party politics over what the right move is," Coleman told the Free Beacon. "As former Marine and father of three current active duty Marines we need the best person for the job, that with just the saying of his name strikes fear in our enemies, and General James Mattis does just that."
Coleman, who sounded the alarm about deficient mental health care at the troubled Phoenix VA hospital located in Gallego's district, also said the congressman has not focused enough on health care for veterans.
"I find it sad Representative Gallego chooses this issue to take a stand on more for political show, when there are so many other issues with our military members and veterans he should be focusing on right here at the cesspool known at the Phoenix VA hospital," Coleman added. "This is a move being taken by the congressman that he will lose easily and as a former Marine he knows better than to not back one of our own who has the utmost respect of every Marine who ever served under him. Waiver or no waiver."
Congress must pass the waiver at a 60-vote threshold so Mattis can advance to a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee next year.
As a Marine, Gallego served in Iraq with the Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2014 and serves on the Armed Services Committee. Gallego has sponsored 10 pieces of legislation during his time in Congress. One one has been enacted.