As President Trump’s limousine drove the Washington, D.C. parade route on Friday, the Senate was busy at work stocking Trump’s Cabinet – though not fully.
Gen. James Mattis was confirmed as Secretary of Defense and Gen. John Kelly was confirmed as Secretary of Homeland Security in a pair of Friday evening votes.
Mattis was approved by a vote of 98-1. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., was the lone vote against. Kelly was approved 88-11. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., did not vote on either Kelly or Mattis. Sessions has been nominated to be Attorney General.
Trump signed the commissions for Mattis and Kelly later Friday. Vice President Mike Pence swore in both Generals.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also tried to begin debate on Rep. Mike Pompeo’s nomination as CIA Director following the Mattis and Kelly votes, but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., objected. Instead, the Senate was set to begin the Pompeo debate on Monday.
“I am pleased by the confirmation votes of Generals Mattis and Kelly,” Trump said in a statement. “These uniquely qualified leaders will immediately begin the important work of rebuilding our military, defending our nation and securing our borders. I am proud to have these two American heroes join my administration.
“I call on members of the Senate to fulfill their constitutional obligation and swiftly confirm the remainder of my highly qualified cabinet nominees, so that we can get to work on behalf of the American people without further delay.”
Noting the Senate approved seven of former President Obama’s Cabinet nominees on the first day of his administration in 2009, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chastised Democrats for refusing to consider confirmation of more of Trump’s nominees. McCain said the only difference between 2009 and 2017 is that now “we’ve got a world on fire,” citing Syrian refugees and Russia’s aggressive actions.
“We need a new Director of the CIA more than ever,” McCain said.
Wyden, however, countered that the Senate would not be Trump’s “rubber stamp.”
Trump earlier Friday signed into law a waiver allowing Mattis to serve as Defense Secretary. The bill passed by Congress last week granted Mattis a one-time exception from federal law barring former U.S. service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years from holding the top Pentagon job. The restriction is meant to preserve civilian control of the military. Mattis, 66, retired from the Marine Corps in 2013 after a 41-year career in uniform.
During that same signing ceremony, Trump joked with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about Pompeo’s confirmation.
“Mike Pompeo. Great. They tell me he’s going to be approved momentarily, but you never know with this place,” Trump said.
Schumer retorted: “Depends how you define momentarily — soon.”
There was little debate about the confirmation of Kelly, who is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike. As the former head of the military’s Southern Command, based in South Florida, he routinely worked with the Department of Homeland Security to combat human trafficking and drug smuggling.
Kelly joined the Marine Corps in 1970 and served three tours in Iraq. He was also the highest-ranking officer to lose a child in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Marine 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, was killed in November 2010 in Afghanistan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.