The Senate moved quickly to confirm two of President Donald Trump’s key national security nominees, but there’s bad blood about Democratic objections to a third.
The confirmation of retired Gens. James Mattis to be Defense secretary and John Kelly to be Homeland Security secretary came immediately, but the Senate only voted to turn to the confirmation of Rep. Mike Pompeo to be the CIA Director, setting up a final vote late Monday.
Mattis won approval 98-1, while Kelly received 88 affirmative votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had said he hoped a confirmation vote on Pompeo could come Friday night, but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was critical of Intelligence Committee not voting on the Pompeo nomination. He ultimately agreed to a time agreement setting a debate after up to six hours of floor debate on Monday.
“I think we need to stop bad habits on the part of the Democrats. Because obviously they lost the election, they’re not happy about it. I don’t expect them to be happy about it, but I also don’t expect them to behave in bad behavior that really doesn’t serve any other purpose other than maybe make them feel better in their loss,” Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said of the plans. “So it could mean staying here all night and through the weekend, inconveniencing them. You know how powerful the lure of a Thrusday evening or Friday is around here.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain dedicated much of his floor time ahead of the vote on Mattis to the objections to Pompeo.
“Why the hell don’t we just go ahead and give the president his national security team when we need it more than any time in recent history?” McCain said on the floor.
McCain’s floor statement followed a speech by Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin in which the Illinois Democrat blasted Republicans for having blocked the confirmation of former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in the last Congress.
Leaving the bipartisan inaugural luncheon honoring Trump, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker dismissed the idea that there would ultimately be a problem with Democrats delaying confirmation of national security nominees.
“Cousin Chuck is going to be all right by 7:30 p.m.,” Wicker said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.
That turned out to be true, given the time agreement.
Wicker had also told reporters that he did not foresee the desire of some GOP to get out of the Capitol for inaugural balls and other functions would cause them to toss in the towel on confirming Pompeo Friday night. It turned out that is was clear enough that Wyden and his backers would not relent.
Senators took a somewhat unusual step of holding a roll call vote on taking up the Pompeo nomination before running for the exists after a long day on Capitol Hill. That test vote was designed to show wide support for Pompeo, a Republican House member from Kansas.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.