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6 Things to Know About...Gen. James Mattis

By Joan Greve
Washington Week Fellow


Breaking from tradition yet again, President-elect Donald Trump unofficially announced Gen. James Mattis as his pick for defense secretary at a Thursday victory rally in Cincinnati, asking them to not “tell anybody” until the official statement on Monday. Despite the unconventional announcement, Mattis represents a rather traditional selection for the role, given his extensive military experience. But that experience could also hinder his Senate confirmation hearings due to a legal technicality that is already raising alarms for at least one member of Congress. Here is everything you need to know about the retired general: 


Gen. James Mattis

1.    Mattis served in the Marines for over 40 years, eventually working his way up to lead the U.S. Central Command in the Middle East and Southwest Asia as a four-star general. He retired from that position in 2013.

2.    Because he recently served in the Marines, Mattis would require a congressional waiver to receive Senate confirmation. The waiver would address a federal law that stipulates a seven-year gap between military service and command of the Defense Department. The last defense secretary to receive this waiver was Gen. George Marshall, who ran  President Harry Truman’s Pentagon after serving as the Army chief of staff during World War II. Republican Sen. John McCain, who runs the Senate Armed Services Committee, recommended Mattis for the post and would almost certainly vote for the waiver, but Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has expressed misgivings about Mattis’ recent military experience. In a statement released Thursday, Gillibrand said that she will oppose the congressional waiver, arguing that a separation between the military and the Defense Department leadership represents “a fundamental principle of American democracy.”

3.    Trump has repeatedly referred to his defense secretary pick by the nickname he picked up after the second battle of Fallujah in the Iraq War: “Mad Dog.” The nickname, although eyebrow-raising to some civilian eyes, is actually a sign of respect from Mattis’ fellow Marines. His lifelong bachelor status and extensive library have also earned him another nickname from friends: “warrior monk.”

4.    He has often attracted attention for his colorful commentary on serving in the military, such as, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

5.    Mattis has called for a very harsh stance against Iran, prompting the Obama Administration to cut his Central Command tour short in 2013. But Mattis, unlike Trump, now supports President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal for the sake of continuity between the two countries.

6.    Conservative commentator and Trump opponent Bill Kristol suggested in April, as the Republican primary was winding down, that Mattis would be an excellent third-party option. Mattis, who was also offered speaking slots at both parties’ conventions, obviously did not take up the offer.


Photo via flickr / U.S. Naval War College

See how Trump's administration is taking shape: 

Attorney General: Jeff Sessions
Chief strategist: Stephen Bannon
Chief of staff: Reince Priebus
National Security adviser: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
CIA director: Mike Pompeo
Education secretary: Betsy DeVos
UN ambassador: Nikki Haley
Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao
Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross
Defense secretary: Gen. James Mattis
Energy secretary:
Homeland Security secretary: Gen. John Kelly
Housing and Urban Development secretary: Ben Carson
Secretary of state:
Interior secretary:
Treasury secretary: Steven Mnuchin
Veteran Affairs secretary:
EPA administrator: Scott Pruitt