The Senate has officially confirmed retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, ending a long-standing tradition of civilian control of the military.
Although some Democrats like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand expressed reservations about the fact that Mattis has not been out of the military long enough, the rest of the Senate seemed perfectly fine with making an exception to the rule, given his legendary reputation.
The Senate voted 98-1 to confirm Mattis, Defense News reports.
Normally, the law requires the secretary of defense to be out of the military for seven years, but the four-star general Mattis retired from service in 2013 after 44 years of service in the Marine Corps. But almost as soon as Mattis was proposed for secretary of defense, GOP Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said he was willing to go to bat for Mattis and push a waiver through Congress. That waiver passed the Senate by 81-17 and 268-151 in the House. Trump signed the legislation earlier on Friday.
He will now head the Department of Defense, much to his surprise, as he had no part at all in the Trump campaign.
“I was not involved in the presidential campaign, and I was certainly not seeking or envisioning a position in any new administration,” Mattis said, according to The Washington Post. “That said, it would be the highest honor if I am confirmed to lead those who volunteer to support and defend the constitution and to defend our people.”
Mattis is most known for his recent policy conflicts with Trump on issues like Iran, Russia, Israel and climate change, not to mention disagreements over staffing the Pentagon.
The last time Congress granted an exemption to the rule mandating a set amount of separation between military service and civilian control of the Pentagon was in 1950, where Congress made an exception for former Army Gen. George Marshall.
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