Mattis departure leaves Trump Cabinet increasingly thin

The early departure of Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book Maxine Waters: Republicans 'shielding' Trump 'going to be responsible for dragging us to war' 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 John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE on Sunday announced he is removing Mattis, who resigned on Thursday, two months earlier than his scheduled departure at the end of February.

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Also due to depart at year’s end are Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeEurope deepens energy dependence on Russia Overnight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks MORE and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyIs Mike Pence preparing to resign, assume the presidency, or both? Judd Apatow urges Georgia voters to get rid of Doug Collins after 'terrorists' comment Nikki Haley: Democratic leadership, 2020 Dems are the only people mourning Soleimani death 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 SessionsICE subpoenas Denver law enforcement: report Bottom Line DOJ inquiry tied to Clinton, touted by Trump winds down with no tangible results: report 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 NielsenActing DHS secretary says he expects Russia to attempt to interfere in 2020 elections House Homeland Security rip DHS's 'unacceptable' failure to comply with subpoena Trump puts Kushner in charge of overseeing border wall construction: report 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 JohnsonHillicon Valley: Barr asks Apple to unlock Pensacola shooter's phone | Tech industry rallies behind Google in Supreme Court fight | Congress struggles to set rules for cyber warfare with Iran | Blog site Boing Boing hacked Congress struggles on rules for cyber warfare with Iran Senators set for briefing on cyber threats from Iran 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 CorkerRNC says ex-Trump ambassador nominee's efforts 'to link future contributions to an official action' were 'inappropriate' Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications 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.