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Get to Know General Mattis, Trump’s Secretary of Defense Nominee

by Countable | 12.22.16

On December 1, President-elect Donald Trump nominated retired Marine Corps General James Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense. Trump said that Mattis is a "true General’s General" who is “the closest thing to Gen. George Patton that we have.”

Who is Gen. James Mattis?

Mattis, 66, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969 and served as the leader of an infantry platoon before being promoted to company commander. In the Persian Gulf War, he commanded a battalion of Marines and was promoted to brigadier general in the early stages of the War in Afghanistan. He received another promotion to major general and led the 1st Marine Division during the Iraq War. He became known for his willingness to remove underperforming commanders beneath him and earned the respect of the troops under his command by going to the front and personally checking on his soldiers.

In 2007, Mattis became a four-star general and in 2010 he was chosen to lead U.S. Central Command, a role in which he oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in addition to a region which included security threats in Iran, Syria, and Yemen. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.

Mattis is a native of Pullman, Washington who graduated from Central Washington University, where he participated in the ROTC program and earned a history degree in 1972. He is nicknamed "The Warrior Monk" because of his intellectual interest in military history (his personal library has over 7,000 books) and the fact that he is a lifelong bachelor. Mattis is also nicknamed "Mad Dog" and his Marine Corps call sign was "Chaos."

What’s the outlook for his confirmation?

Mattis will face a particularly tricky confirmation process because he will need a Congressional waiver before he can serve as Secretary of Defense. That’s because he only retired three years ago, and federal law prohibits former military personnel from serving in that role for seven years after leaving the service. The incoming Congress will have to pass legislation granting him an exemption that has only been granted once before, to Gen. George Marshall during the Truman administration just three years after the prohibition was enacted.

The odds of the incoming Congress approving such a waiver got a boost when lawmakers cut a deal to keep the government funded through April 28, 2017 by including a provision that limits debate in the Senate on the matter to 10 hours. Democrats objected to the concept of speeding up the confirmation process and have also raised concerns over waiving a law that was designed to ensure civilian control of the military, but ultimately the proposal passed along with the stopgap spending package. Mattis’s nomination hasn’t yet proven as contentious as some of Trump’s other appointments, so that taken with Congress approving the fast-track for his waiver bodes well for him in the confirmation process.

What does the Department of Defense do?

The Dept. of Defense (DOD) coordinates and supervises the national security activities of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is the world’s largest employer with 2.87 million personnel under its supervision in 2015, which included 1.3 million active duty servicemen and women, 826,000 members of the National Guard and military reserve, plus 742,000 civilians. The DOD’s base budget for fiscal year 2016 was $534.3 billion, with $130 billion in additional funding for overseas contingency operations.

Use the "Take Action" button to tell your senators how they should vote on Mattis's confirmation.

— Eric Revell

(Photo by Cherie Cullen / Public Domain)

Countable

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