WASHINGTON — The US Senate overwhelmingly approved two of President Donald Trump’s national defense nominees, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly — both retired Marine generals.
On the heels of Trump’s inauguration, Mattis’ nomination sailed through the upper chamber with a tally of 98-1. Earlier this month, Mattis testified for three hours before the Senate Armed Services committee and received waiver from Congress for a mandatory seven-year cooling off period for military officers.
Only once before has Congress granted such a waiver, to Gen. George Marshall in 1950, as the cooling-off period is rooted in America’s principle of civilian control of the military.
One of Trump’s first acts was signing the waiver bill into law, along with formal nominations and a proclamation for a national day of patriotism.
“My friends, I am very confident that when we finish this vote, the morale all over the United States military will go up because they will know that they have a leader, and a leader that they can not only respect but they admire, and in many cases, have great affection for.”
While both sides of the aisle have expressed support for Trump’s national security nominees, key Democrats are putting up a fight on the others.
Democrats, and some Republicans, are hopeful Mattis will serve as a check on Trump, and some of lawmakers who opposed his waiver praised his merits said they were doing to preserve civilian control.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking member on the SASC, said his approval for the waiver was a one-time vote. He told Mattis at last week’s confirmation hearing that “many have supported the waiver legislation in your confirmation because they believe you will be, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, ‘the saucer that cools the coffee.’ ”
This after Trump nominated Vincent Viola, a billionaire Wall Street trader, and West Point graduate, to be the secretary of the Army. Team Trump has not named any service secretary nominees since.
The spotlight is on a potential rivalry between Mattis and incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn, a retired three-star forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency who became an early Trump loyalist. Flynn declined to comment Friday, while Mattis, in his confirmation hearing, said the Trump Cabinet will include a “healthy” mix of rivals.
The Senate on Friday confirmed Kelly as Homeland Security secretary, 88-11, with only Democrats voting “no.” Kelly, 66, is the former chief of US Southern Command and the military jail at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
During his Jan. 10 confirmation hearing, Kelly broke with Trump on several of his most divisive campaign promises, including on a border wall, Muslims coming into the US and torture techniques.
Republicans hoped to bring Trump’s nominee for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, to a vote on Friday as well, but could not reach a deal with Democrats, who want to scrutinize him further. That vote is expected for Monday.