U.S. Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb. 20, 2017. Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images
(WASHINGTON) — The Senate Armed Services Committee eased the path Tuesday for an active-duty general to become President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser weeks after controversy abruptly ended his predecessor’s brief tenure.
Since being named for the post two weeks ago, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster swiftly began streamlining operations at the country’s top national security apparatus. Some administration officials say McMaster’s predecessor, Michael Flynn, created a staff structure and had a management style that complicated policy implementation and obstructed advisers from getting their recommendations to the president.
The committee’s 23-2 vote came after McMaster met privately with members for nearly two hours to discuss his move from a military assignment to one of the most influential jobs in the U.S. government. Two members of the committee abstained from voting.
McMaster’s appearance before the committee was unusual because national security advisers aren’t subject to Senate confirmation and typically don’t testify on Capitol Hill. But McMaster’s situation is different. He elected to remain in uniform rather than retire from military service, and generals need the chamber’s approval when they’re promoted or change assignments.
“The vote was very overwhelming in favor of approving his status as a three-star general to remain on active-duty,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the panel’s chairman, told reporters following the session.
McCain said he’s confident the full Senate will re-appoint McMaster as a lieutenant general while serving as Trump’s national security adviser.
McMaster swooped in to lead the National Security Council as controversy swirled over communications that members of Trump’s campaign team had with Russian officials. Flynn, another former general, was asked to resign after misleading senior administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period.
McMaster has expressed a desire to run a less hierarchical organization and to be more accessible to his staff, something that created widespread frustration when Flynn was in charge, according to three current and former administration officials familiar with the changes. The officials spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
He has eliminated two senior deputy positions Flynn had created. The deputies stood between NSC directorates and members of Trump’s inner circle — Flynn himself, chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior adviser Stephen Miller and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — as they formed key policy decisions: The NSC directorates were cut out of those discussions. And when they were consulted, their input was rarely considered.
Two administration officials said McMaster has made an effort to open communication between the West Wing and the directorates. He sent an email to staff on his first day on the job, expressing enthusiasm to work with the team — something Flynn never did.
Most significantly, McMaster has already managed to get select NSC officials facetime with the president, to prepare him for calls and meetings with foreign leaders, according to the officials.
At an all-hands meeting last week, McMaster also pushed back on some of Trump’s policies, asserting that Russia and China were both cause for serious concern.
He also warned that terms categorizing radicalism as purely “Islamic” are dangerous and unproductive. One day later, Trump vowed in an address to Congress to take “strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.”