First Cabinet picks confirmed: Senate OKs Mattis as defense secretary, Kelly as head of homeland security

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WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s first two Cabinet members Friday, formally approving his defense and homeland security secretaries.

The final vote to confirm retired Marine Gen. James Mattis was 98-1. New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the only senator to vote against him, with Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions — Trump’s pick for attorney general — abstaining.

The Senate also voted convincingly to put a tough-talking retired Marine general in charge of overseeing President Donald Trump’s pledge to crack down on illegal immigration. Senators confirmed John Kelly’s nomination to lead the Homeland Security Department, 88-11.

Among Kelly’s likely first assignments will be executing Trump’s plans for the fate of a program that has protected more than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation.

If Trump keeps his campaign promises, Kelly’s agency will be responsible for strengthening the screening of immigrants permitted to enter the U.S. His department also will be charged with finding additional resources to locate and deport people living here illegally.

Kelly says he’s in favor of a wall at the Mexican border, but he says a physical barrier alone isn’t enough to secure the 2,000-mile frontier.

The Senate was set to vote next on retired Gen. John Kelly for homeland security secretary.

The Senate will not consider Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., for CIA director until Monday, after at least three Democrats objected to his quick confirmation over concerns, including surveillance.

The two expected confirmations were fewer than the seven confirmations sought by the Trump transition team. They had hoped to meet the number that President Barack Obama had on his Inauguration Day, but Senate Democrats have objected to many of Trump’s nominees.

Though Republicans have a Senate majority and are likely to confirm most, if not all, of Trump’s Cabinet, Democrats can slow down the process by not agreeing to expedite Senate procedure.

The two national security nominees were considered the least controversial of the picks. In order to be confirmed quickly by voice vote, the Senate must be unanimous. Any single senator may object to dispensing with procedural steps, which was why any of the three Democrats could delay Pompeo’s nomination.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has been negotiating with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over nominees.

Democrats have accused the Republicans of trying to ram through Trump’s nominees, complaining that multiple hearings were held concurrently, that required ethics paperwork wasn’t delivered in enough time before confirmation hearings and that some of the nominees were too extreme.

McConnell opened debate on the Senate floor Friday by lamenting the situation, especially that Democrats didn’t allow Pompeo’s confirmation immediately.

“We need to confirm a new director today,” McConnell said. “We need to confirm the rest of the Cabinet as quickly as we can.”

Schumer has said that his caucus has the right to express objections to nominees. After McConnell spoke on the floor, Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, spoke about delays in ethics paperwork and Obama nominees that Senate Republicans held up throughout his tenure.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, an outspoken critic of surveillance, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal were the three Democrats who put out a statement Friday objecting to Pompeo’s confirmation Friday.

“No CIA director in history has ever been confirmed on Inauguration Day,” their offices said in a joint statement. “The importance of the position of CIA director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated.”

Trump signed a bill clearing the way for Mattis to be confirmed as his first action as President earlier Friday. Congress passed the waiver — making an exception to a law requiring defense secretaries be out of the military at least seven years before serving — earlier this month.