Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis was confirmed by lawmakers on Friday to serve as defense secretary, just hours after Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the United States.
Mattis was expected to be easily confirmed after Congress passed legislation one week ago allowing him to serve in the top defense post despite having been out of uniform for less than seven years.
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The Senate voted 98-1 in favor of Mattis' confirmation Friday afternoon, two days after the Senate Armed Services Committee decisively approved the retired general for defense secretary in a 26-1 vote. The sole Democrat on the committee voting against his confirmation was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), who was vocal about opposing the waiver for Mattis due to the importance of civilian control of the military.
Mattis has been praised by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as former secretaries of defense, as a satisfactory choice to lead the Pentagon at a time when America faces challenges from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and terrorist organizations.
Mattis will take over the job from Ash Carter. Robert Work, Carter's deputy, is likely to stay on for a short period as the new administration takes hold.
In testimony to U.S. senators at his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Mattis said that his priorities as secretary of defense would be "to strengthen military readiness, strengthen our alliances, and bring business reforms to the Department of Defense." He underscored the importance of NATO given Russia's destabilizing activity in Europe.
"Right now, the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with [in] [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the integrated steps—diplomatic, economic, military, and the alliance steps, working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must," Mattis said.
Mattis echoed the new president by saying he would work to end sequestration and bolster the strength of the military, which he said is unable to deter potential adversaries in its current form.
Mattis served 41 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, most recently commanding the U.S. Central Command during the Obama administration before retiring in 2013. Mattis is one of two generals selected to serve in Trump's cabinet that were expected to be swiftly confirmed on Friday. The other is retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, the president's choice for secretary of homeland security.