Mattis Confirmed as Secretary of Defense – UPDATE

Mattis Confirmed as Secretary of Defense – UPDATE

General James Mattis (USMC, Ret.) was confirmed by the Senate today as the new Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The 98-1 vote took place just hours after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. [UPDATE:  Mattis was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence shortly after the confirmation vote.]

One of Trump’s first acts as President was signing legislation that passed Congress last week allowing Mattis to serve as SecDef even though he retired from military service only 3 years ago.  By law, he must have been retired for at least 7 years.  The bill allowed a waiver to that law.   Former President Obama had indicated that he was willing to sign the bill, but Congress waited until today to present it to the new President for signature.   Such a waiver has been granted only once before, in 1950, allowing Army General George C. Marshall to serve as SecDef.

The one vote against the confirmation was cast by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) because of concerns about maintaining the principle of civilian control of the military.  Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) did not vote.   He himself is a Trump Cabinet nominee (for Attorney General).  Senate Democrats had demanded that he recuse himself from voting on the nominations of other Cabinet nominees since it would be a conflict of interest and Politico reported that it would be unprecedented for a sitting Senator to do so.  

Mattis, 66, already has had a distinguished military career capped by serving from 2010-2013 as Commander of Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Northeast Africa and Central Asia.  He was NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (2007-2009) and, concurrently, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (2007-2010).   After his retirement, he served on a number of boards, including General Dynamics, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Mattis’s views on space activities are not well known.  He was not asked any questions about national security space programs during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last week.  SASC sent him a 56-page set of questions in advance of the hearing.  The questions and his answers are posted on the SASC website.  Only four specifically concerned space activities.  The questions and answers, verbatim, are as follows:


What do you perceive as the threats to our national security space satellites?

The threat to our satellite capabilities is real and growing. Both China and Russia have developed and tested a variety of anti-satellite weapons that can destroy or disable satellites.

Briefly describe what policy objectives we should be seeking to achieve and the strategy you think is necessary to address these threats.

We must ensure the availability, security, and resiliency of our assets at all times and through all phases of conflict.

Do you support the development of offensive space control capabilities to counter those threats?

Offensive space control capabilities should be considered to ensure survivable and resilient space operations necessary for the execution of war plans. If confirmed, I will examine the feasibility of integrating such considerations into existing national security policy.

The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the use of Russian rocket engines after December 31, 2022. Are you committed to ending our dependence on the use of Russian rocket engines as soon as possible, perhaps even before December 31, 2022?

If confirmed, I will comply with the law, and work in consultation with the Congress to meet or exceed any deadline requirements it imposes.

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