- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The White House criticized congressional Republicans Wednesday for adding a measure to a spending bill to speed the confirmation of Gen. James N. Mattis, who is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest didn’t suggest that President Obama would veto the overall bill if lawmakers include the waiver provision for Gen. Mattis. But he said the strategy by the GOP is “odd.”

“I find it strange that Republicans in Congress seem to be taking an unconventional step to avoid the straightforward consideration of this waiver purely on its merits, and on the merits of Gen. Mattis’ service to the country,” Mr. Earnest said.

To be confirmed, Gen. Mattis will need a waiver from a 1947 law stating that a service member must be retired for at least seven years before serving as defense secretary. Gen. Mattis has been retired for three years.

Republican lawmakers have inserted such a waiver into a spending bill that would keep the government running through April.

Mr. Earnest didn’t say whether Mr. Obama would sign the bill including the waiver, but he said the president believes Gen. Mattis has “served his country with distinction” and that Mr. Trump deserves to be able to choose his top advisers.

“The president of the United States should be given a lot significant latitude to assemble his team,” Mr. Earnest said. “In many instances, that courtesy was not extended to this president by Republicans in the Senate. But the president believes that’s an important principle.”

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