Senate confirms James Mattis as US secretary of defense

The Senate confirmed the appointment of retired general James Mattis as secretary of defense on Friday, making him the first member of Donald Trump’s cabinet cleared to take office.

The Senate vote was passed by 98-1 after Trump signed a waiver making Mattis exempt from a law that blocks senior officers from taking the defense secretary job within seven years of retirement. Mattis has been out of uniform for three years.

The single vote against his confirmation was from Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat who argued the bar should remain in place on the grounds that civilian control of the military was a fundamental principle of US democracy.

Mattis was not confirmed until Friday evening. At noon, when Trump took the oath of office, he had no cabinet members in place.

The incoming administration’s “designated survivor”, an official held in a distant and secure location who would inherit the presidency in the event of a catastrophic attack on the inauguration ceremony, was Jeh Johnson, the outgoing secretary for homeland security.

Mattis’s confirmation marks the belated start of the creation of Trump’s administration, which is a long way behind schedule.

The Republican senator John McCain pointed out that Congress confirmed seven of Barack Obama’s cabinet picks on the first day of his administration and criticised Democrats for refusing to consider confirmation of more of Trump’s nominees.

“I call on members of the Senate to fulfill their constitutional obligation and swiftly confirm the remainder of my highly qualified cabinet nominees,” said Donald Trump in an official statement on inauguration day, “so that we can get to work on behalf of the American people without further delay.”

In Mattis’s wake, John Kelly was confirmed as secretary of homeland security later on Friday.The Republican majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said he hoped to have a vote on the nominee for CIA director, Mike Pompeo, by the end of the night.

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