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Senate Democrats Signal Retreat on James Mattis for Defense Secretary

Donald Trump,James Mattis
President-elect Donald Trump introduces retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as his appointed Secretary of Defense / AP
• December 7, 2016 2:37 pm

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Senate Democrats indicated on Wednesday they would not halt a short-term spending bill required to keep the government running despite Republicans inserting a measure that would accelerate the confirmation of retired Gen. James Mattis as defense secretary.

Democrats have said the chamber should hold full debates over whether to carve out a special exemption for Mattis to serve as the Pentagon chief and warned against Republicans using the must-pass spending bill to circumvent discussions.

Mattis, who left the military in 2013, will need a waiver from Congress to serve in Donald Trump's Cabinet thanks to a decades-old law that requires former military personnel to have been out of the service for at least seven years before heading the Pentagon. Republicans on Tuesday slipped language into the spending bill that would limit debate on the issue to ten hours, but preserved a 60-vote margin for approval of the waiver as Democrats had requested.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) told Politico the language marked "an improvement." Government funding will run out at midnight on Friday if the bill is not passed. Republicans are waging that Democrats will ultimately pass the bill despite the Mattis provision in order to keep the government running.

Trump warned Democrats during a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday night that "there would be a lot of angry people" if Mattis does not receive the waiver to serve in his administration.

Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) is so far the only Senate member who has publicly come out against the nomination of the retired four-star general. Her colleague, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), said last month Mattis would "be a good choice" to lead the Pentagon.