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Mattis Fades from SecDef Ranks As Former Sen. Kyl Rises

Posted by Colin Clark on


The Deficit Reduction Super Committee Holds Meeting For Opening Statements

Then-Sen. Jon Kyl on the Deficit Reduction Super Committee in 2011

UPDATED: Trump May Name SecDef By End Of Week

WASHINGTON: While much of the country seems to think retired Marine Gen. James Mattis has a lock on the job of Defense Secretary in a Trump Administration, increasing signs make clear other candidates’ stars are rising, a source involved with the Trump transition says.

The main reason for this is simple: Mattis does not appear eager to take the job. He knows it would set a precedent since military officers are barred from senior Pentagon jobs for seven years, though a congressional waiver can be issued and, in this case, probably would be. (For an excellent, thorough and authoritative discussion of the prohibitions on active and retired military officers, here’s a Justice Department memo.)

His Nov. 19 meeting with Donald Trump was apparently marked by his recommending his former assistant, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, for the job while Kelly recommended his former boss. Now that can be seen as canny self-interest or a clear sign of the innate decency of both men. But it’s also a pretty clear sign that Mattis does not lust after the job and is more than willing to stand aside for others.

Add to that the fact that Trump has had more than a week to name Mattis — and did name other senior positions — but has not acted. Adding another recently retired general to his administration would be legal, given a waiver, but has sparked much discussion about whether Trump should rely so heavily on retired military officers in his administration.

UPDATE BEGINS: A second source said, after reading our story, that Trump may name his Defense Secretary nominee in the next day or two. UPDATE ENDS

Former Sen. Jim Talent has been on the SecDef list from the beginning. Former Sen. Jon Kyl, now at the powerhouse law firm known as Covington, was never a senior defense lawmaker. But as the No. 2 Republican senator, Kyl remained actively involved in defense issues — especially those involving nuclear weapons and missile defense. His longtime staffer, Rob Soofer, has been on the Senate Armed Services Committee as an expert on arms control for years. If Kyl gets the nod it’s a good bet Soofer would join Kyl as a senior official or advisor.

Although Kyl has surfaced late, he has enormous support in the Republican Party and widespread respect for his ability to get things done. One indicator: Time picked him in 2010 as one of its 100 most influential people in the world, citing his “encyclopedic knowledge of domestic and foreign policy, and his hard work and leadership” and “power to persuade.”

Whether Trump would select a relative paragon of the Republican establishment remains to be seen. Given the fundamental importance of the job of Defense Secretary, Kyl’s selection would send a clear signal to the military, to allies and to the Hill that Trump understands that he needs effective and rational leaders in his Cabinet.

What do you think?