More than 60 lawmakers want to award James Mattis the Congressional Gold Medal

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Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis

An effort to award former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis one of the nation’s most prestigious civilian awards just got a bit closer towards its goal. 

On Thursday, eight more lawmakers signaled their support for the House of Representatives’ General James N. Mattis Congressional Gold Medal Act, bringing the total to number in support to 64.

But the bill has a long way yet to go: it must be cosponsored by at least 290 members of the House for it to be considered, explained Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), who first introduced the bill in October. 

“It is not something handed out often, and frankly it is very difficult to get signed into law,” Newhouse said at a Washington Policy Center annual dinner, where he announced the bill. “I want you all to know, as this is the first time I am making this publicly known, that I will be working my hardest to ensure General Mattis is the next distinguished leader to receive the Congressional Gold Medal.”

The medal is the highest honor the United States Congress can bestow to a civilian, he said at the time.

Congressional Gold Medal vs. Presidential Medal of Freedom

Congressional Gold Medals should not be confused with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, though it's unclear which, if either, is more prestigious. 

According to the Senate, the Congressional Gold Medal is Congress' "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions," but the Presidential Medal of Freedom is considered "the highest civilian award of the U.S. government," according to the Senate.

The key difference between the two is that Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees are selected solely by the President, while Congressional Gold Medal honorees must be agreed upon by Congress. Perhaps for this reason, there have been only 163 Congressional Gold Medals awarded since 1775; meanwhile, about 600 Presidential Medals of Freedom have been awarded just since 1963.

A lifetime of service

If Mattis receives a Congressional Gold Medal, it would be the latest in a long line of achievements for the former Marine general. On the military side, there’s the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star medal (with “V” for valor).

Mattis earned those awards over the course of a stellar 45-year career, which he started in 1968 as an enlisted Marine Corps Reservist fresh out of high school, according to the text of the Congressional Gold Medal bill. 

Mattis was commissioned as second lieutenant in 1972, and he rose through the infantry ranks to become a a lieutenant colonel in charge of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines during the Gulf War.

After 9/11, then-Brigadier General Mattis became the first Marine to lead a Naval Task Force when he commanded Naval Expeditionary Task Force 58 through a series of operations in Afghanistan, according to the legislation.

After that, the general commanded the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He then went on to lead Marine Corps Combat Development Command, and eventually, U.S. Central Command. Mattis resigned from CENTCOM on April 27, 2012, and his retirement from the Marine Corps was finalized on June 1, 2013.

As we all know, however, that wasn’t the end of Mattis’ service: the Senate confirmed him as Secretary of Defense on January 20, 2017 under President Donald Trump, a post he kept until December 31, 2018.

Mattis has received plenty of fancy, non-military awards too, including:

  • The Center for National Policy “Edmund S. Muskie Distinguished Public Service Award” (2009);
  • The Atlantic Council “Distinguished Military Leadership Award” (2010);
  • The World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads “Ryan C. Crocker Global Citizen of the Year” Award (2013);
  • The Marine Corps University Foundation “Semper Fidelis Award” (2014);
  • The Washington Policy Center “Champion of Freedom Award” (2016);
  • The “Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award” (2019);
  • The OSS Society “William J. Donovan Award” (2019); and
  • The Washington Policy Center “Columbia Award” (2019).

Though Mattis traveled the world, he also remained committed to his hometown of  Pullman, Washington in the Pacific Northwest by volunteering with the Tri-Cities Food Bank, the bill said.

“James N. Mattis demonstrates the American principles of hard work, patriotism, and integrity,” the bill said. “His distinguished military and civilian service and his devotion to defending and upholding the Constitution are an inspiration to all Americans.”

Rewarding Mattis’ service with the Congressional Gold Medal seems to be one of the few things lawmakers can agree on these days: the bill so far has 51 Republican cosponsors and 13 Democratic cosponsors.

In a gesture that we think is sure to win over more cosponsors, photos of Mattis modeling a $1,300 black leather jacket recently reappeared online. A gold medal would probably go great with that.