The Senate has voted by an overwhelming margin to confirm the appointment of retired Marine General James Mattis as the new U.S. secretary of defense, and also has approved another retired Marine general, John Kelly, as secretary of homeland security.
Mattis and Kelly, both 66, were the first two members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to be confirmed, and they were sworn into office immediately. The Senate convened for the votes soon after inauguration ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol, as the parade through Washington celebrating Trump’s installation was just beginning.
Mattis posted a warm message of greeting to U.S. forces worldwide, hailing their work as “the sentinels and guardians of our nation” and pledging his efforts “to ensure our military is ready to fight, today and in the future.”
The Senate vote in favor of Mattis was 98-1. The vote for Kelly was 88-11. The only senator who did not vote was Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is line for confirmation himself as the next U.S. attorney general.
Trump signed documents commissioning Mattis and Kelly in their new jobs minutes after entering the Oval Office late Friday and beginning his official duties. Vice President Mike Pence then administered the oath of office to both men.
The Senate also voted by a wide margin Friday to clear the way for a confirmation vote Monday for Congressman Mike Pompeo, the president’s choice to be director of the CIA.
Watch: Mattis Talks about Strength of NATO Before Senate Panel
Mattis at Pentagon
Mattis, the new Pentagon chief, served as the commander of U.S. Central Command and was NATO’s commander for transformation while in uniform; he retired from military service in 2013.
Kelly headed the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees American military operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, until he retired a year ago.
Before either man could be confirmed, Trump had to sign into law a waiver of a long-standing regulation that military officers could not take up high civilian positions until at least seven years after they left uniformed service before becoming defense secretary.
The rule originally was meant to bolster the American principle of civilian leadership of the military, but there was little opposition by lawmakers to Trump’s nomination of the two generals.
Watch: Mattis on Russia Sanctions at Confirmation Hearing
Democrats think Mattis, in particular, will be a strong check to the Republican president’s unpredictable nature.
The waiver passed the House and Senate easily, and Trump signed it Friday at the Capitol, as one of his first official actions after being sworn into office.
During an earlier appearance before the Senate, Mattis said he would press for greater U.S. military support for European allies to counter what he sees as Russian attempts to weaken or even dismantle NATO.
Such sentiments distinguished Mattis from Trump, who has on several occasions belittled the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as obsolete and expensive.
Mattis also has suggested the U.S. military’s effort to defeat the Islamic State group and dislodge extremist fighters from their de facto capital in Syria, could be conducted more aggressively. That dovetailed with Trump’s pledge in his inaugural address Friday to eradicate the radical Islamic group worldwide.
Vice President Mike Pence administers the oath of office to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in the Vice Presidential Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House grounds in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017.
Kelly at Homeland
Kelly, who will head the U.S. border security forces among many other agencies, told senators during his confirmation hearing that Trump’s oft-repeated call for a wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico, “in and of itself,” would not entirely prevent immigrants from entering the United States.
He said the U.S. also would need to confront drugs and drug violence in South and Central America, which prompt northward migration.