Politics

Trump team pulls Mattis from hearing focused on his need for a waiver to be Pentagon chief

James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, in Washington, D.C., last week.

Al Drago/The New York Times

James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, in Washington, D.C., last week.

The House Armed Services Committee has cancelled a hearing Thursday in which retired Marine Gen. James Mattis was to address the unconventional nature of his nomination for defense secretary because President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team decided against him appearing, two congressional staff members said.

Mattis was to testify in the afternoon on his need for Congress to pass legislation that would exempt him from an existing law that prevents recently retired military officers from serving in senior civilian jobs in the Pentagon. Current legislation states that retired military personnel must be out of uniform for seven years. The original law, adopted in 1947, had a 10-year moratorium and was created to ensure that civilians control the military.

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Two committee staff members, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Mattis was willing to appear before the House committee. Separately, Mattis’s confirmation hearing also is scheduled Thursday morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A spokesperson for the transition team did not immediately have any comment.

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Congress has granted only one exception to the law. Army Gen. George C. Marshall, an active-duty five-star general, was defense secretary for about a year beginning in 1950 after he was selected by President Truman as the military struggled in the early days of the Korean War. Legislation passed at the time allowed Marshall to take the job, but said it was ‘‘the sense’’ of lawmakers that ‘‘no additional appointments of military men to that office shall be approved.’’

The law means that in addition to requiring confirmation by the Senate, both chambers of Congress must pass a waiver for Mattis. Senate Republicans included a clause in the continuing resolution spending bill passed last month that limits debate about Mattis’s waiver to 10 hours, making it hard for Democrats to block the nomination.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday, two national security experts testified that Mattis has the acumen to be defense secretary, but argued they do not think there should be another general after him serving in the position for at least 20 years.

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One of the witnesses, Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University’s Strategic Studies Program, argued that Mattis would be ‘‘stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous or illegal things from happening,’’ in Trump’s administration.

‘‘As has long been pointed out, the secretary of defense is other than the presidency probably the most difficult job in the federal government, and I would trust General Mattis as much as or more than just about anybody else,’’ Cohen said.

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