Wednesday 21 March 2018

James Mattis approved for US defence secretary

US defence secretary-designate James Mattis. (AP)
US defence secretary-designate James Mattis. (AP)

The United States' Senate Armed Services Committee has voted decisively to approve Donald Trump's pick for defence secretary.

The decision clears the way for retired Marine General James Mattis to be confirmed shortly after the president-elect is sworn in.

On a vote of 26-1, the Republican-led panel agreed that Mr Mattis' nomination should be sent directly to the full Senate for consideration instead of first being referred to the committee. Although Mr Trump selected Mr Mattis last month, he cannot formally nominate him until after he is inaugurated on Friday.

The move bypasses a procedural hurdle and all but ensures there will be a seamless transition at the Pentagon. Ash Carter has been serving as President Barack Obama's defence secretary.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand cast the lone vote against Mr Mattis. Ms Gillibrand opposed Mr Mattis from the start because she said his appointment undermined the principle of civilian control of the military.

Congress last week approved legislation that grants a one-time exception for Mr Mattis from the law that bars former service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years from holding the top Pentagon job. The restriction is meant to preserve civilian control of the military.

Mr Mattis retired from military service in 2013 after a 41-year career in uniform.

Confirmation of Mr Mattis by the Republican-led Senate is virtually certain. The legislation granting the exception cleared the Senate 81-17. Thirty Democrats backed the bill, suggesting they will also vote to confirm him. In addition to Mr Mattis' qualifications, many Democrats believe he will counterbalance Mr Trump's impulsive, bombastic style.


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