Overnight Defense: Trump nominates Air Force secretary | Senate clears CIA director | Details on first drone strike under Trump

Overnight Defense: Trump nominates Air Force secretary | Senate clears CIA director | Details on first drone strike under Trump
© Greg Nash

THE TOPLINE: President Trump named Monday former Rep. Heather Wilson as his nominee for Air Force secretary.

With Wilson tapped for the Air Force and Vincent Viola for the Army, the only service secretary nomination yet to be named is Navy secretary.

Wilson, 56, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1982 and was in the school's third class to include women. She also earned master's and doctoral degrees as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. She is currently the president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

If confirmed, Wilson would be the first Air Force Academy graduate to serve as Air Force secretary, according to the White House statement.

Read more about Wilson here.

TILLERSON HEADED TOWARD CONFIRMATION: Republicans who were skeptical of Trump's choice for secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, are now saying they will vote to confirm him despite their reservations.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda  MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products MORE (R-S.C.) said Sunday they would vote for Tillerson, and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (R-Fla.) followed suit Monday.

All were wary of Tillerson's ties to Russia. As head of Exxon Mobile, Tillerson made numerous multibillion-dollar deals with Russia and received the country's Order of Friendship award in 2013.


With McCain, Graham and Rubio's votes, Tillerson is now expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. Tillerson only needs a simple majority of the Senate. Had all three voted against Tillerson along with all Democrats, he could have been rejected since there are just 52 Republicans in the Senate.

Rubio's vote also means Tillerson should be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later Monday. The committee has just one more Republican than Democrat, meaning a "no" vote from Rubio could have denied Tillerson committee approval. 

TRUMP CIA PICK CLEARS SENATE: The Senate is poised to approve Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) to lead the CIA, after a fight over surveillance delayed his nomination, reports The Hill's Jordain Carney.

Senators voted 66-32 on the President Trump's nominee Monday evening, with only 50 votes needed to clear him through the upper chamber. As of 7: 50 p.m., the vote was being held open for two Democratic senators. But though they haven't voted, they cannot change the outcome of the nomination.

Fourteen Democrats, as well as Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate to vote next week on Freedom to Vote Act GOP tries to take filibuster pressure off Manchin, Sinema Hillicon Valley — Presented by American Edge Project — TSA to issue cybersecurity directives to secure rail, aviation sectors MORE (I-Maine), voted for Pompeo -- who was expected to get bipartisan support despite concerns by privacy-minded Democrats.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulVaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations MORE (R-Ky.) was the only GOP senator to vote against him, writing in a rare op-ed that Pompeo's "desire for security will trump his defense of liberty."

Click here for more on the vote.

Pompeo will be taking over at the CIA at a tense time for the intelligence community. The Hill's Katie Bo Williams has that story:

Mike Pompeo has a tough task ahead.

Pompeo, who was confirmed on Monday as director of the CIA, is taking over an intelligence force that is wary of the new commander in chief, in part because he has blasted the agency's work repeatedly.

A visit from President Trump over the weekend did little to calm the waters, as Trump spent more time commenting about the size of his inauguration crowd than he did talking about the CIA's fallen heroes. 

Click here to read more about Pompeo's challenge.

FIRST DRONE STRIKES UNDER TRUMP: The Pentagon confirmed Monday a trio of weekend airstrikes in Yemen.

They're the first drone strikes to take place since Trump was sworn in, but the Pentagon said they didn't require his or Defense Secretary James Mattis' authorization.

The Hill's Kristina Wong has the story:

"Those authorities are delegated," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said at a briefing.

Davis said one strike was conducted in al Bayda, Yemen on each day from Friday through Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against al Qaeda's Yemen branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Experts have deemed it to be the most dangerous al Qaeda branch.

The strike on Friday killed one al Qaeda operative, while the one on Saturday killed three people and the one on Sunday one person.

Read more here.

MATTIS GETS TO WORK: Mattis dug into his new role shortly after his confirmation Friday, showing up at the Pentagon on Saturday and having a packed day Monday.

The Hill's Kristina Wong had a dispatch from the weekend here. She also has the story on his first full day at work Monday:

By 11:30 a.m., he had received a daily intelligence briefing and spoke with his Canadian counterpart, Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan.

He was later scheduled to meet with the members of Joint Chiefs of Staff in "the Tank," a secure conference room reserved for Joint Chief meetings. 

"Secretary Mattis has hit the ground running and focused on establishing a battle rhythm in the building," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

Davis said Mattis is also making a "number of calls" to his foreign counterparts, but did not specify to whom.

Read more about Mattis' Monday here.

MATTIS SPEAKS TO NATO CHIEF: One of Mattis's calls on his first day was to the head of NATO. Kristina Wong has the story: Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, among other foreign leaders, on his first full day in office on Monday, signaling the importance he places on the alliance.

"Secretary Mattis spoke today by telephone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to reconnect and discuss the key role NATO plays in transatlantic security," said a readout of the phone call by Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.

"The secretary, who previously served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation, wanted to place the call on his first full day in office to reinforce the importance he places on the alliance," Davis said. 

President Trump repeatedly questioned the value of the alliance on the campaign trail, but since taking office has said NATO was "very important" to him.

Read more about the NATO call here.


The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the defense budget for fiscal 2018 and beyond with testimony from outside experts at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Hart Senate Office Building, room 216. http://bit.ly/2jUTZ6P


-- The Hill: Top Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote

-- The Hill: Bergdahl lawyers press for dismissal after Trump inauguration

-- Associated Press: Pentagon denies Russia's claims it joined U.S.-led coalition in anti-ISIS airstrikes

-- Reuters: Taliban tells new U.S. President Trump to quit Afghanistan

-- Associated Press: Talks on Syria's civil war off to a rocky start 

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com 

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill@kristina_wong@Rebecca_H_K