Sam Nunn endorses waiver for Jim Mattis as Pentagon chief, citing family precedent

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Defense secretary nominee retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis arrives at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

This morning, Sam Nunn made another appearance before a U.S. Senate committee hearing for a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet, this time for former Marine general Jim Mattis as secretary of defense.

In doing so, the former Georgia senator endorsed a congressional waiver of a federal law that requires Pentagon chiefs to have a seven-year gap between that job and their military service.

It’s only been done once before. Nunn cited his family connection to the precedent:

“In September of 1950, my great uncle Carl Vinson, as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, presented to the House of Representatives a strong case for Congress to pass a waiver to allow Gen. George Marshall to assume the position of Secretary of Defense.


Carl Vinson, former representative from Georgia -- and great-uncle to Sam Nunn. AJC file

Carl Vinson, former representative from Georgia — and great-uncle to Sam Nunn. AJC file

“Today, I urge you to pass the same type of waiver for Jim Mattis, who retired from the Marine Corps three and a half years ago.  I believe that the law requiring a secretary of defense to be out of active duty at least seven years remains relevant, but there is also a good reason that there can be, on occasion, case-by-case, common sense exceptions through Congressional action. 


“The Congressional Research Service has written an excellent paper on the legislative history of the separation from military service requirement.  When the original statute was passed in 1947, the Department of Defense had just been created by merging the Department of War and the Navy.  There were several famous generals and admirals emerging from World War II who were highly publicized heroes, including a few five-stars, and Congress did not want one service overpowering the new department.”

In other words, Nunn was saying that “Mad Dog” Mattis is no Douglas MacArthur.

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