US Senate approves Trump's defence, homeland security picks

US Senate approves Trump's defence, homeland security picks
The US Senate approved on Friday Donald Trump's nominations for the Department of Defence and the Department of Homeland Security, hours after the new president took office.
2 min read
21 January, 2017
James Mattis was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence [AFP]

The US Senate on Friday overwhelmingly voted to confirm retired Marine general James Mattis as President Donald Trump’s defence secretary.

Mattis's confirmation, the first action taken by senators after Trump was sworn in, passed by a 98-1 majority.

Lawmakers had first passed a special waiver allowing Mattis, who retired in 2013, to serve before a customary seven-year limit on former military personnel assuming the Pentagon's top post.

That waiver was the first law Trump signed as president.

Mattis has been criticised for remarks he made in 2005, saying he enjoyed shooting people.

During a panel discussion in San Diego, California in 2005, Mattis said: "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling."

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them," he continued.

Mattis also came under scrutiny during one of the more high-profile criminal investigations of the Iraq war, the shooting deaths of 24 Iraqis by Marines.

Marines in the town of Haditha killed the Iraqis, who included unarmed women and children, after a roadside bomb killed one of their comrades.

Senators also confirmed John Kelly's nomination to lead the Homeland Security Department.

Among Kelly's likely first assignments will be executing Trump's plans for the fate of a programme that has protected more than 750,000 young immigrants from deportation.

If Trump keeps his campaign promises, Kelly's agency will be responsible for strengthening the screening of immigrants permitted to enter the US.

His department also will be charged with finding additional resources to locate and deport people who are in the country illegally.

Kelly says he's in favor of a wall at the Mexican border, but he says a physical barrier alone isn't enough to secure the 2,000-mile frontier. 

Both Mattis and Kelly were sworn in to office by Vice President Mike Pence on Friday evening.