Mattis, Kelly Confirmed as Fight Over Trump Cabinet Heats Up

  • Democrats insist on debate before confirming Pompeo for CIA
  • Senators agreed to vote Monday on Pompeo’s nomination

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Senate confirmed James Mattis as defense secretary and John Kelly to run the Homeland Security Department as Democrats balked at Republicans’ demand to also install the CIA director on President Donald Trump’s first day in office.

James Mattis is sworn-in as Defense Secretary by Vice President Mike Pence.

Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via Getty Images

The Senate voted 98-1 for Mattis and 88-11 for Kelly while Trump’s inaugural parade was proceeding from the Capitol to the White House on a damp evening in Washington. Republicans backed off threats to work through the weekend to break the logjam over the nomination of Representative Mike Pompeo to run the CIA, scheduling a vote for Monday.

“We live in dangerous times,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. He said before the votes that confirming Mattis and Kelly was “not enough” to get Trump’s national security team in place.

Trump issued a statement Friday evening saying he was pleased that Mattis and Kelly were approved as he called on the Senate to “swiftly confirm the remainder of my highly qualified Cabinet nominees.”

John Kelly

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Earlier Friday, Schumer said Trump’s Cabinet of millionaires and conservative choices required additional scrutiny and debate. While he said Democrats were willing to begin debate on Pompeo’s nomination, a trio of Democrats announced they wanted an extended debate.

“It makes no sense to leave the post open -- not for another week, not for another day, not for another hour,” McConnell said. “America’s enemies will not pause in plotting, planning and training because the Democrats refuse to vote.”

John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Democrats were acting like a “sore loser” by threatening to delay confirmations.

“I think we ought to be prepared to push back and push back hard to confirm more nominees,” he said. “And in the end, it’s really just a question of fair play. We confirmed seven Obama nominees on Jan. 20, 2009, and this just strikes me as having all the attributes of a sore loser.”

Long Hours

Cornyn told reporters before the inauguration he’d like to see the entire national security team, including Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson and attorney general nominee Senator Jeff Sessions, confirmed Friday.

But Democrats dismissed the idea outright -- neither man has received a vote in committee yet. 

"Absolutely not going to happen," said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Tillerson, who recently stepped down as CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., hasn’t won the backing of Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, who said he’s still reviewing Tillerson’s answers to written questions he received Thursday. The committee is scheduled to vote Monday on his nomination.

Cornyn also said Democrats should allow confirmations of nominees who he says aren’t controversial -- Elaine Chao at Transportation, Nikki Haley at the United Nations, and Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development. And he wants his fellow Texan, former Governor Rick Perry, confirmed as Energy secretary.

Republican senators had earlier said they were willing to stay late in an all-out effort to confirm nominees during the inaugural festivities. But they ended up backing off those threats, agreeing to reconvene on Monday to debate Pompeo’s nomination.

Thorough Vetting

Three Democrats - Ron Wyden of Oregon, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut - issued a joint statement saying they wanted a full debate on Pompeo’s nomination. They said their constituents didn’t want them to be a "rubber stamp" for nominees.

“No CIA director in history has ever been confirmed on Inauguration Day," they wrote. "The importance of the position of CIA director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated."

— With assistance by Laura Litvan

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