Democrats Stand Their Ground on General Mattis – and Win

Last week Martin explained the issue with Trump’s nomination of General James Mattis to be Secretary of Defense. It comes down to the fact that federal law says that a general has to wait 7 years from leaving active duty before becoming defense secretary. In order for Mattis to be confirmed, Congress would need to pass a waiver that exempts him from that provision.

Led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democrats objected and promised to filibuster consideration of the waiver. In response, Republicans tried to insert the waiver into the must-pass spending bill that would keep the government running past Friday. But Democrats stood their ground. Don’t believe the headlines you see like the one in Politico that says, “Democrats wave the white flag on Mattis.” There is language in the spending bill that they’ve agreed to, but here’s what it does:

The CR [continuing budget resolution] language unveiled Tuesday night would not grant the waiver, but rather establish an expedited process for considering it. Under the language, the Senate Armed Services Committee would have fives days to take up the waiver after it’s introduced, or else it goes straight to the Senate floor.

Also, debate on the Senate floor would be limited to no more than 10 hours. But the waiver would still need 60 votes to pass the Senate.

Notice that last bolded sentence. Democrats called Republicans’ bluff on shutting down the government and retained the ability to filibuster the waiver for General Mattis.

Beyond the issue of whether or not Mattis eventually becomes Defense Secretary, this signals something important from Republicans. As we’ve seen with their reluctance to create too much chaos via repeal of Obamacare, they’ve now demonstrated that being in charge of all three branches of government might lessen their taste for weathering a government shut-down. It may still be too soon to assume much, but perhaps they’re actually a bit reluctant to be the ones who are known for burning the whole place down.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.