Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, chosen by Republican President-elect Donald Trump to be the nation’s next defense secretary, faces a potentially rigorous confirmation process because of his recent retirement from the U.S. military.

U.S. law requires that military officers be out of active duty for at least seven years before taking the job of defense secretary, an outgrowth of the tradition of civilian control of the military.

Congressional staffers already are drafting legislation that would give Gen. Mattis, who retired in 2013, a special exemption, the first such move since 1950.

Nonetheless, concerns linger over the erosion of civilian control of the military. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she would oppose a “waiver” for Gen. Mattis. A spokesman said Ms. Gillibrand will effectively force the Senate to follow a procedure requiring 60 votes for a waiver, meaning Democrats could seek to block the nomination.

To address the situation, Capitol Hill aides said there would be an attempt to pass a separate bill by the new Congress in January, though it remains possible a waiver provision could find its way into a spending bill in the next week, before Congress adjourns for the holidays.


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