Mattis departure leaves Trump Cabinet increasingly thin

The early departure of Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Dems tee up Tuesday vote against Trump's emergency declaration | GOP expects few defections | Trump doubles number of troops staying in Syria to 400 Trump administration ups to 400 number of troops staying behind in Syria Kurdish-led Syrian administration cheers Trump decision to leave troops in region 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 TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border 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 ZinkeInterior looking to rely on staffers with less training for park law enforcement: report DOJ investigation into former Interior chief goes to grand jury Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House MORE and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyTrump selects Kelly Craft for United Nations ambassador Ivanka Trump endorses Nikki Haley's daughter for student vice president McConnell recommending US ambassador to Canada as new UN ambassador 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 SessionsTrump says he hasn't spoken to Barr about Mueller report Ex-Trump aide: Can’t imagine Mueller not giving House a ‘roadmap’ to impeachment Rosenstein: My time at DOJ is 'coming to an end' 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 NielsenImmigrant advocacy groups seek restraining order to block Trump asylum policy The Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration 2,000 asylum seekers return home, decide to stay in Mexico: 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 JohnsonWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority GOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it 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 CorkerSasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger RNC votes to give Trump 'undivided support' ahead of 2020 Sen. Risch has unique chance to guide Trump on foreign policy 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 SchumerDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win 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.