The early departure of Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE, which caught congressional leaders by surprise, adds to a growing number of Cabinet vacancies in the Trump administration as well as a confirmations backlog in the Senate.
President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE on Sunday announced he is removing Mattis, who resigned on Thursday, two months earlier than his scheduled departure at the end of February.
Also due to depart at year’s end are Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyHarris to hold fundraiser for McAuliffe ahead of Virginia governor's race Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid Trump schedules rallies in Iowa, Georgia MORE.
The Senate will have to hold hearings and vote to confirm their replacements, as well as vote on William Barr, whom Trump has appointed to succeed Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE as attorney general, and Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, whom Trump says he plans to nominate to permanently hold the post.
The president says he will replace Haley with State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
That means the Senate will be cluttered by five high-profile confirmation fights at the beginning of 2019.
A sixth confirmation battle could happen if Trump pushes out Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-Trump official: 'No. 1 national security threat I've ever seen' is GOP Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' MORE, who has come under fire from the president.
Senate Republicans are calling on Trump to replace Mattis with a like-minded candidate, even though Mattis announced Thursday that he was stepping down from the top Pentagon post because of differences with the president over national security policy.
“I’d like a Mattis clone. I think we all would,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonDomestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary MORE (R-Wis.) told reporters earlier this week.
“This is disconcerting to say the least. We lost McMaster, we lost Kelly, we’re losing Mattis,” he added. “These are people that first of all served their country with distinction and they bring a very needed perspective into the administration,” he added, referring to former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who left the administration in April, and outgoing White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE.
Mattis said he would leave after Trump surprised lawmakers by announcing a decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.
Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also announced his resignation Friday.
While lawmakers aren’t grieving over the departure of Zinke, who has come under an ethical cloud related to a controversial land deal involving his family in Montana, they are uneasy about the departures of Mattis and Kelly, who were highly respected by both sides on Capitol Hill.
CNN host Jake Tapper asked Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) on Sunday about the departure of several key figures Corker once described as “those people who help separate our country from chaos."
“About three or four or five months ago I noticed a real change,” Corker said. “I think the president has felt, ‘Look, I’ve got this now.’ ”
Corker said the president appears to be putting less value on experts such as Mattis and Kelly, citing the decision to pull out of Syria despite the advice of national security experts.
The Senate still had to act on 195 executive nominees as of a week ago, according to a tally by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.
In addition, there’s a growing backlog of judicial nominees.
There were 31 judicial nominees awaiting floor action last week, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate leaders traditionally confirm a package of judges before wrapping up a Congress but Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (N.Y.) refused to do so this month under heavy pressure from liberal activists.
The Senate will be tied up for the first half of next year over what are likely to be controversial confirmation hearings and votes.
Republicans, however, will have some more room to confirm Trump’s nominees, as they picked up two seats and will control a 53-47 Senate majority in 2019.