WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee overwhelmingly approved President Trump’s pick for national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, on Tuesday, teeing up a vote by the full Senate.
The panel met in executive session and voted 23-2 to confirm McMaster's rank, okaying his ability to serve in a traditionally civilian job while an active-duty general. A vote has yet to be scheduled for the Senate floor, where McMaster would need only a simple majority to succeed.
Exiting the session — in which McMaster discussed America’s national security challenges — committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was confident McMaster would be approved by the Senate, given the results of the vote. Yet McCaun and other lawmakers had questions about Trump political strategist Steve Bannon's unusual role on the National Security Council.
“I think he answered the majority of the questions,” McCain said of McMaster. "He still needs to meet with some members of the committee who have not had a chance to meet with him. The vote was very overwhelming in favor of approving his status as a three-star general on active duty.”
McCain has expressed concerns about Bannon before.
“I have voiced concerns for the first time in history having the president’s political adviser as a member of the national security council. It should not be,” McCain said. “No less a person than former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said it was totally unacceptable.”
McMaster’s appearance before Congress is extraordinary because the appointment of the national security adviser does not require the advice and consent of the Senate. However, the Senate must approve generals above two-star rank, which gave lawmakers the rare opportunity to call the hearing.
By a majority vote, the committee waived a rule that would have delayed the floor vote by seven days. However some Democrats objected because they didn’t feel they had enough time to ask McMaster questions, McCain said.
The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said he voted for McMaster but against the waiver because there are unanswered questions. He and other lawmakers were tight-lipped about what those questions are because the hearing was classified, but Reed said there will be a floor debate on topics to include the civil-military balance.
“There is an opportunity for a floor debate where people will talk about the general and also the responsibilities of the National Security Council,” Reed said. “There was a bipartisan vote today to support him … but I think issues will be discussed very seriously.”
Reed said Democrats have no plans to delay a vote for McMaster.
Exiting the closed session, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he had a “very significant concern and I got an answer … but others had very legitimate concerns."
Arkansas Republican and Trump ally Sen. Tom Cotton said there was a “big vote” for McMaster. Cotton recommended McMaster's name to Trump after former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn resigned.
“I was glad to recommend him to the president and the president deserves the credit for selecting him,” Cotton said.
Less than a month into the administration, Flynn resigned amid reports he misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States amid reports of Russia’s interference in U.S. elections. Similar questions now surround Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a gifted military strategist, McMaster commanded troops during the first Gulf War and received the Silver Star for his role commanding a tank during the Battle of 73 Easting, one of the biggest tank battles since World War II.
McMaster is the former director of the Army's Capabilities Integration Center and the author of the book, "Dereliction of Duty," which explored the military's failure to communicate to U.S. policymakers that their Vietnam War strategy was not working.
Leo Shane III contributed to this report.