January 12, 2017

Udall Votes Against Overriding Law to Allow General Mattis to Serve as Secretary of Defense

Law protects American principle of civilian control of the military

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall issued the following statement after voting against changing the existing law to exempt retired Marine Gen. James Mattis from a requirement that military personnel must be out of uniform for seven years before serving as Secretary of Defense. Mattis has been retired for three years.

"I have great admiration and respect for General Mattis' years of service and dedication to our nation's security, and I don't doubt his integrity or desire to serve our nation with honor as Secretary of Defense. I will have an opportunity soon to decide whether I will support his confirmation, and I'll make that decision based on a full review of his record and whether I believe he is fit to be secretary. I want to be clear that today's vote is about whether to make an exception to a principle that has been central to our democracy since George Washington resigned his commission to serve as our first president. And I voted 'no' because I believe that we must stay true to our Constitution and our national tradition of civilian control of the military.

"The United States is governed according to the will of the people, and the military exists to defend the people and our democratic system of government. For example, the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to declare war, and it names the president the Commander in Chief. In 1947, as the Department of Defense was being created in the wake of World War II and this law was passed, Congress had two main purposes: to require that any military officer be retired for long enough before serving as secretary that he or she was adequately separated from the military, and to ensure the secretary wasn't too aligned with one particular branch of the military. Since then, Congress has made only one exception -- when George C. Marshall was chosen to lead the Pentagon in 1950, following his time as Secretary of State from 1947 to 1950.

"I am especially concerned that the measure we voted on today was rushed through with limited debate. This bill was reported out of committee just hours ago, and the Republican Congress reduced the time for debate in an appropriations rider late last year. The legislation doesn't include the safeguards that were passed in 1950. Congress explicitly said in its 1950 legislation that it was waiving the law for Marshall alone and that 'no additional appointments of military men to that office shall be approved.' It also clearly stated that Marshall would no longer be bound by military law.

"Every time you make an exception to the law, it's a little easier to do it again. We can't afford to set a precedent that could undermine the principles our nation was founded on."

The following is the language Congress approved to enable Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense:

(a) In General- Notwithstanding the second sentence of section 113(a) of title 10, United States Code, the first person appointed, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, as Secretary of Defense after the date of the enactment of this Act may be a person who is, on the date of appointment, within seven years after relief, but not within three years after relief, from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of the Armed Forces.
(b) Limited Exception- This section applies only to the first person appointed as Secretary of Defense as described in subsection (a) after the date of the enactment of this Act, and to no other person.