tv Senators on Defense Secretary Waiver CSPAN January 13, 2017 2:38am-3:13am EST
so we are not using the right standards and i think it's a historic mistake. now, as i said before, this has nothing to do with our particular nominee. these principles exist for a reason, and it's enabled our country's success for decades and has kept our democracy safe. and if we take this change in our laws so lightly as we are about to do today, that when future congress look at this and want to make the same exception or even the same congress two or three years from now, it will be much easier to do. so i'll continue to oppose this waiver for any nominee who is not a civilian or is not -- has not met the waiting period that is required by law and i urge all of my colleagues to do the same. i urge them to vote a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from rhode island. mr. reid: thank you, mr. president -- mr. reed: thank you, mr. president. i rise today to discuss s. 184,
a bill that would provide an exception that a military member be retired from the military for at least seven years before being appointed as secretary of defense. we are considering this today because the president-elect trump's nominee for secretary of defense has only been retired from the united states marine corps for three years. in considering the unique situation presented by this nomination, this week the armed services committee held two hearings. the first hearing on tuesday had a panel of two excellent outside witnesses who discussed the history of the retirement restriction law and the benefits and challenges of legislating an exception to that law. then this morning the committee held a nomination hearing with general mattis and examined his views hon a wide range of defense challenges facing our country and the defense department. general mattis has a long and distinguished military career, and he is recognized by his peers as a thoughtful and strategic thinker. however, since its passage in 1947, the statutory requirement
designed to protect civilian control of the armed forces has only been waived one other time, and that was for general george c. marshall. therefore, i believe it is extremely important that we carefully consider the consequences of setting aside the law and the implications such as it may have on the future of civilian and military relations. civilian control of the military is enshrined in our constitution and dates back to george washington and the revolutionary war. this principle has distinguished our nation from many other countries around the world and has helped ensure that our democracy remains in the hands of the people. the national security act of 1947 which established the department of defense, included a provision prohibiting any individual within ten years of active duty as a commissioned officer and a regular component of the ampled services as being appointed as secretary of defense. in 1950, harry truman nominated
former secretary of state and former chief of staff of the united states army, general george marshall, to serve as secretary of defense, necessitating congress to pass an extension to the statute. while congress ultimately waived the restriction for general marshall, the law included a nonbinding section that stated, and i quote, it is hereby expressed that the intent of the congress that the authority granted by this act is not to be construed as approved by the congress of continuing appointments of military men to the office of secretary of defense in the future. it is hereby expressed as the sense of the congress that after general marshall leaves the office of the secretary of defense, no additional appointments of military men to that office shall be approved. nearly 70 years later, congress again must make a determination if an exception should be made in the case of general mattis. let me remind my colleagues why making this change is so significant. during our committee hearings, dr. kathleen hicks astutely noted the defense secretary position is unique in our system. other than the president acting
as commander in chief, the secretary of defense is the only civilian official in the operational chain of command to the armed forces. unlike the president, however, he or she is not an elected official. as i stated during the committee's consideration of the waiver legislation, we must be very cautious about any actions, including this legislation, that may inadvert tently politicize our armed forces. during the past presidential election cycle, both democrats and republicans came dangerously close to compromising the nonpartisan nature of our military with the nominating convention features speeches from recently retired general officers advocating candidate for president. i'm also concerned about the binding waiver for general mattis in light of the fact that he will join other recently retired senior military officers who have been selected for high-ranking national security positions in the trump administration. throughout our nation's history, retired general officers have
often held positions at the highest level of government as civilians. in fact, a few have been elected president. what concerns me, however, is the total number of retired senior military officers chosen by the president-elect to lead organizations critical to our national security and the cumulative effect it may have on our overall national security policies. specifically, there may be unintended consequences having so many senior leaders with similar military backgrounds crafting policy and making decisions as weighty as those facing the next administration. in the course of our review of general mattis' nomination, the recent most -- reasons most often cited in support of a waiver allowing him to serve is that a war-time general known for his strategic judgment to lead the department of defense will counterbalance the president-elect's lack of defense and foreign policy experience. as tom ricks wrote recently in "the new york times," usually i would oppose having a general as secretary of defense because he could undermine our tradition of
civilian control of the military, but these are not normal times. likewise, dr. elliott cohen testified before the senate armed services committee early this week, and he argued that if it weren't for his deep concern about the trump administration, he would oppose a waiver for general mattis. specifically, he stated there is no question in my mind that a secretary mattis would be a stabilizing and moderating force and over time helping to steer american foreign and security policy in a sound and sensible direction. if congress provides an exception for general mattis, we must be mindful of the precedent this action sets for such waivers in the future. the restriction was enacted into law for good reason and general george marshall is the only retired military officer to receive this exception. based on general mattis' testimony this morning, as well as his decades of distinguished service in the united states marine corps and weighing all of the other factors, i will support a waiver for him to serve as the secretary of defense. general mattis testified to the
fact that the role of congress does not end with the passage of this legislation. as dr. hicks stated, the united states congress, the nation's statutes, the courts, the professionalism of our armed forces and the will of the people are critical safeguards against any attempts to fundamentally alter the quality of civilian control of the military in this country. any of us who support this bill have a profound duty to ensure that the department of defense and its leaders, both civilian and military, are following and protecting the principles upon which this country is founded. let me be very, very clear. i will not support a waiver for any future nominees under the incoming administration or future administrations. i view this as a generational exception as our bipartisan witnesses recommended. i would ask that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle make this same commitment. indeed, i intend to propose
re-establishing the original ten-year ban which was in place when the defense department was established. restoring the threshold for the service to ten years would send a strong signal that this principle civilian control of military is central to our democratic system of government. at this point, mr. president, i would ask if the chairman might yield for a colloquy, and i do that first by thanking him for the extraordinarily fair, thoughtful and careful way that he has guided this nomination through the committee and here to the floor. but if the chairman could respond, i want to thank you for the thoughtful and thorough process we have had in considering the nomination of general mattis. i think one of the high points was a hearing on civilian-military relations with elliott cohen and kathleen hicks. both witnesses emphasized that while they supported this waiver, it should be a rare
generational exception to ensure the integrity of the civilian control of the military, which is the bedrock of our democracy. i agree wholeheartedly with that assessment. i would ask the chairman if he also agrees with that assessment. mr. mccain: i say to my colleague, i also agree, and i want to thank him for his leadership. i want to thank him for setting the tenor and the environment that surrounds the armed services committee, which has resulted in a 24-3 vote today in the armed services committee. because of the relationship that we have but also because of his leadership, we have a very bipartisan committee, and it is vital that we do so because of the awesome responsibilities that we hold. but the senator from rhode island has displayed time after time a willingness to work together for the good of the country, and i think this is the
latest example, even though he had significant reservations which are value i.d. concerning the transition, a short period of transition from wearing the uniform to holding down the highest civilian position as far as defense of the nation is concerned. and i know he didn't reach this conclusion without a lot of thought, a lot of study, a lot of, as he has displayed, references to history and reasons for the origination of this legislation which requires seven years before an individual is eligible to be secretary of defense after leaving the military. so i just wanted to thank the senator from rhode island and look forward to an overwhelming vote. and, mr. president, could i ask the parliamentary situation as it is right now?
the presiding officer: the senate is considering s. 84. with ten hours equally divided. mr. mccain: has a time been set, mr. president, for the vote? the presiding officer: there is not yet an order for the vote. mr. reed: i believe i have the floor. mr. mccain: i yield to my friend from rhode island. mr. reed: mr. chairman, i believe you do concur with me with the fact that this is a rare and generational exception. i think that's fair to say. mr. mccain: so is it accurate to say that 2:45 is a time that is being seriously considered? mr. reed: we hope so, and i think if we recognize senator merkley for his comments and then i think you have comments, we would be on that schedule. mr. mccain: mr. president, i ask unanimous consent that i be allowed five minutes prior to the vote if the time of the vote is set and the senator from
rhode island be given five minutes prior to that in case of the time of the vote being set. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mr. mccain: mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. reed: mr. president, i believe i still retain the floor. i appreciate very much the senator from arizona allowing me five minutes, but i would -- i would yield that five minutes so that at the end, the senator from arizona would have five minutes and then i would -- i would suggest we recognize senator merkley so that we can conduct the vote at 2:45. mr. mccain: i have a unanimous consent request that i be allowed five minutes prior to the vote, but before i do that, mr. president, i ask unanimous consent that the time between -- until 2:45 be equally divided between the managers or their designees and that following the
use or yielding back of that time, the bill be read a third time, the senate vote on passage of s. 84. further, that following the disposition of s. 84, the senate recess subject to the call of the chair for the all-members briefing. so i would ask the senator from oregon how much time would he need? mr. merkley: less than ten minutes. mr. mccain: good. mr. president, so i'm asking for unanimous consent for the request that i just made. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mr. mccain: and i add to that unanimous consent request that i be given the final five minutes before the vote. the presiding officer: is there objection? mr. reed: no objection. i would yield ten minutes to the senator from oregon for the time on the democratic side. mr. merkley: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. merkley: mr. president, we have a long-standing tradition
in our country of civilian control of government and civilian control of the military. this was first symbolized by george washington, who through his act of resigning his commander in chief role for the continental army on december 23, 1783. it's a tradition or a moment in time that is preserved on the wall of the rotunda where a mural depicts washington's noble and insightful act. our early days were full of the warnings of a standing army and of ongoing military control at high levels, and those comments came from thomas jefferson, they came from alexander hamilton, they came from samuel adams. when we came to the point in our history where we realized that a
continuing military force was necessary, we preserved the importance of civilian control, and we did so for a host of foreign reasons which others have pointed out on this floor but i think are worth restating. it's important to have a secretary of defense who brings a broad world view that includes a civilian perspective to the position. second, it is important not to politicize our officer ranks and have them essentially competing to position themselves to hold this position of secretary of defense. third, we do not want the services competing against each other in order to hold this position. this is why the joint chiefs of staff position is rotated on a
specific schedule, and if you have the secretary of defense come from one military service, then another branch of the service is going to say next time it should be our turn. the marine corps today, the air force tomorrow, the army after that and the navy. that is not the position we want to end up in, and we also know that across the world, countries wrestle with preserving civilian control. that is, preserving democratic republics in the face of the power of military machinery in their country, military organizations. and we see military coups and we see massive military influence. and so it's been the desire of our country to model a republic that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. not a nation that becomes
controlled by the massive concentration of power in the military. now my colleagues, many of whom are very learned in the history of our country, have arisen to say that there is a set of special circumstances, a unique set of circumstances that merit an exception, and they note that there was an exception once before in our history. that exception was the appointment of george c. marshall to become secretary of defense in the time following world war ii. but think about how many circumstances we face in the world can be put forward to be an exceptional time. it was exceptional when terrorists used planes to attack the twin towers in new york city
and our pentagon and had not one plane gone down, the additional target may have been the capitol or may have been the white house. that was an exceptional moment. it's an exceptional moment when we're fighting al qaeda. it's an exceptional moment when we're fighting disies. -- fighting isis. it is an exceptional moment when russia invades the ukraine and takes over crimea. it is an exceptional moment almost continuously in the face of a complex and changing world. so i stand on the side of maintaining the principle of civilian control. each time we violate this principle, it's easier next time to say it's been done before, but the conversation will not be we did it once half a century ago, and so we should do it again. it will be we did it twice,
once quite recently, when we weren't facing a world crisis. nobody had invaded the u.s. we had not just lost a couplehundred thousand folks fighting for our country in a world war. the conversation will get easier and more fragile, and that is not the direction we should go. it's eisenhower who warned about the overreach of a military enterprise. the military industrial complex, as he referred to it. but one piece of our structure of government that has held back is to maintain that principle of civilian control. can anyone in this room rise up and say out of the thousands of experienced individuals who have both national security
experience and civilian experience, that there isn't one who currently meets even the ten- or seven-year standard of separation? i'm sure there are hundreds that could meet that standard. so here we are. if we could send a message to the president-elect, we reject your effort to eviscerate civilian control. send us someone who's qualified. and if that person we feel is so far out of the reach of reason, which is what i've been hearing from my colleagues in private conversations, terrified that this president-elect will nominate somebody who basically is unhinged, that we have to seize on this moment to take this individual because this body won't have the courage to turn down and reject an unhinged individual nominated by this
president-elect. that is a sad commentary on the leadership of this body. it's a sad commentary on what has become of the u.s. senate that we wouldn't have the courage under our advice and consent power to turn down someone we saw as unfit. that is in fact how we're charged under this constitution, under the advice and consent clause, it was hamilton who laid it out that it's our responsibility to determine if an individual is a fit character or unfit character. and we would retain that power for any nomination that in the collective judgment of this body did not meet that standard. so let's sustain the principle of civilian control and reject this change. thank you, mr. president. mr. mccain: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. mccain: in response to the senator from oregon, who asked if there was not many people who are qualified to serve as
secretary of defense, i am absolutely certain there is. is there anyone as qualified as general mattis is? my answer to the senator from oregon is, no. i have watched general mattis for years. i have seen the way that enlisted an officer reacted to his leadership. i have seen the scholarlily approach he has taken to war and to conflict. and i hope that the senator from oregon would have at some point a chance to get to know him, and he would then appreciate the unique qualities of leadership that are much-needed in time. and these times, where the outgoing president of the united states has left the world in a state of chaos because of an absolute failure of leadership which is disgraceful, we now see an outgoing president of the united states who in 2009 inherited a world that was not
being torn apart in the middle east, that the chinese were not acting assertively in the south china sea, that the members had not dismembered ukraine and taken crimea in gross violation of international law. all of those things have come about because of his president. and so now he comes to the floor and objects to one of the most highly qualified individuals and leaders in military history. i say to the senator from oregon, you are wrong. and i believe that the overwhelming majority of this body will repudiate and cancel out his uninformed remarks. so, mr. president, in a few minutes we will vote on an historic piece of legislation for just the second time in seven decades, the legislation
before us would provide an exception to the law, preventing any person from serving as secretary of defense within seven years of active duty service as a regular commissioned officer of the armed forces. this legislation would allow general james mattis, the president-elect's selection for secretary of defense, who retired from the marine corps three years ago, to serve in that office. earlier today the senate armed services committee received testimony from general mattis. once again he demonstrated exceptional command of the issues confronting the united states, the department of defense and our military service members. and he's also showed something else. that his understanding of civil military relations is deep and that his commitment to civilian control of the armed forces is ironclad. general mattis' character, judgment and commitment to defending our nation and its
constitution have earned him the trust of our next commander in chief, members of congress on both sides of the aisle and so many that are serving in our armed forces. general mattis is an exceptional public servant worthy of exceptional consideration. that's why directly following the conclusion of today's hearing, the senate armed services committee reported this legislation to the senate with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 24-3. i repeat, with an overwhelming vote of 24-3. now i'm not saying, mr. president, that members of the armed services committee are smarter than the senator from oregon, but i am saying that members of the armed services have scrutinized both sides of the aisle, republican and democrat, including the ranking member, have looked at general mattis. many of us have known him for years and years and years as he
has shown the outstanding characteristics of leadership that he has had the opportunity in his service to this country. and by an overwhelming vote of 24-3. so obviously there's 24 people on the armed services committee that believe in general mattis and believe that this exception should be made as opposed to three who share the view of the senator from oregon. that's why directly -- mr. merkley: i ask my colleague from arizona if he'll yield for a question. mr. mccain: -- the senate armed services committee reported this legislation to the senate with a vote of 24-3. i urge this body to follow suit. that said, it's important for future senators to understand the context of our action here today. civilian control of the armed forces has been a bedrock principle of american government since our revolution. a painting hanging in the capitol rotunda not far from this floor celebrates the legacy of george washington who
voluntarily resigned his commission as commander of the continental army to the congress. and this principle is enshrined in our constitution which divides control of the armed forces among the president, his commander in chief and the congress as coequal branches of government. since then congress has adopted various provisions separating military and civilian positions. in the 19th century, for example, congress prohibited an army officer from accepting a civil office. and more recently, in the national security act of 1947 and subsequent revisions, congress, the seven-year cooling off period for any person to serve as secretary of defense. it was only three years later in 1950 that congress granted general george marshall an exemption to that law and the senate confirmed him to be secretary of defense.
indeed the separation between civilian and military positions has not always been so clear. 12 of our nation's presidents, 12 of our nation's presidents previously served as generals in the armed forces. and over the years numerous high-ranking civilian officials in the department of defense have had long careers in military service. the basic responsibilities of civilian and military leaders are simple enough. for civilian leaders to seek the best professional military advice while under no obligation to follow it. for military leaders to provide candid counsel while recognizing civilians have the final say, or as general mattis once observed, insist on being heard and never insist on being obeyed. but the fact is that the relationship between civilian and military leaders is inherently and endlessly complex. it is a relationship of unequals
who nonetheless share a responsibility for the defense of the nation. the stakes could not be higher. the gaps in mutual understanding are sometimes wide. personalities often clash, and the unique features of the profession of arms and the peculiarties of service cultures often prove daunting for civilians who never served in uniform. ultimately the key to healthy civil military relations and civilian control of the military is the oath that soldiers and statesmen share in common -- quote -- "to protect and defend the constitution." it's about the trust they have in one another to perform their respective duties in in accordance with our republican system of government. it is about the candid exchange of views engendered by that trust and which is vital to effective decision making. and it is about mutual respect and understanding. the proper balance in civil
military relations is difficult to achieve and as history has taught us, achieving that balance requires different leaders at different times. i believe that in the dangerous times we live, general mattis is the leader our nation needs as secretary of defense. and that's why, though i believe we must maintain safeguards of civilian leadership at the department of defense, i will support this legislation today and general mattis' nomination to serve this nation again as secretary of defense. and i want to assure my friend from rhode island, the ranking member of the armed services committee who has had very serious concerns, i want to assure you that this is a onetime deal. i know that the senator from rhode island had a deep concern about this whole process that we've been through. yet, i think he's put the interest of the nation and placed his confidence in general
mattis as being so exceptional that the law that was passed back in 1947 can be made one single exception to. the presiding officer: the majority's time has expired. mr. merkley: mr. president? mr. mcconnell: mr. president? the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: as in leader time, i ask unanimous consent that at 4:15, tuesday, january 17, the committee on homeland security and governmental affairs be discharged and the senate proceed to the consideration of h.r. 72. further, that there be 30 minutes of debate equally divided in the usual form and that upon the use or yielding back of time the bill be read a third time and the senate vote on passage of h.r. 72 with no intervening action or debate. finally, if passed, the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate. the presiding officer: is there objection?
mr. merkley: reserving the right to object. mr. president? mr. mccain: mr. president? mr. merkley: mr. president, i agreed -- the presiding officer: the senator from arizona. mr. mccain: has time expired according to the previous u.c.? mr. merkley: mr. president, i believe i have the floor. mr. mcconnell: mr. president, i believe i have the floor. the presiding officer: the majority leader has the floor. mr. mcconnell: just to let everybody know, all i am doing is setting up a vote for tuesday afternoon at 4:15. that's what i was asking consent on. mr. merkley: reserving the right to object. the presiding officer: is there objection? mr. merkley: i reserve the right to object, mr. president. i was very gracious in agreeing to a unanimous consent request that would grant me ten minutes. that was cut short by the filibuster of my colleague who repeatedly brought me into the conversation, refused to yield to my question, so i ask unanimous consent to have two minutes to close.
the presiding officer: objection is heard. is there objection to the majority leader's request? mr. merkley: i object. the presiding officer: objection is heard. mr. mcconnell: mr. president? the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: i have five requests for committees to meet during today's session of the senate. they have the approval of the majority and minorit leaders. the presiding officer: duly noted. under the previous order, the clerk will read the title of the bill for a third time. the clerk: calendar number 2, s. 84, a bill to provide for an exception to a limitation against appointment of persons as secretary of defense within seven years of relief from active duty as a regular commissioned officer of the armed forces. the presiding officer: under the previous order, the question occurs on s. 84. is there a sufficient second?