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McMaster Needs Senate Confirmation to Keep All Three Stars

New job would entail demotion unless Senate signs off

McMaster, left, was announced as the new national security adviser by President Donald Trump on Monday at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Jenna Johnson/Washington Post/Print Pool)
McMaster, left, was announced as the new national security adviser by President Donald Trump on Monday at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Jenna Johnson/Washington Post/Print Pool)

National security advisers don’t need the consent of the Senate, but the decision by President Donald Trump to tap Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster for the assignment brings up an unusual question of military rank. Why? Without the Senate confirmation, McMaster would effectively be demoted as result of the new responsibilities, since three star generals generally have their rank tied to a particular function.

A National Security Council spokesman confirmed to Roll Call that McMaster is expected to face a Senate confirmation vote to maintain his three stars as a result of his new job, with the process already getting under way.

When Colin Powell served as national security adviser late in the Reagan administration, he went through the Senate in order to be elevated to lieutenant general for the job, as his permanent rank was major general. It proved a fairly perfunctory exercise given Powell’s record and credentials.

And one might expect the same for McMaster, with Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., having praised the pick.

“General McMaster does not require Senate confirmation to serve as National Security Adviser,” a Senate Armed Services Committee aide said. “However, if it is the president’s desire that General McMaster serve as National Security Adviser while in his current grade of lieutenant general, the law requires that General McMaster would have to be reappointed by the president and reconfirmed by the Senate in that grade for his new position.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who had confirmed that McMaster would remain on active duty as Powell had done, said that Trump selected McMaster for the position after getting overwhelmingly favorable recommendations for him.

“So many people had spoken to him — [Defense Secretary James Mattis], Tom Cotton, other senators — really praised Gen. McMaster’s command of the issues, his management, his style, his understanding of the geopolitical landscape, and I think that’s why you saw you such amazing widespread bipartisan praise for him, and while he will be such an asset to the national security team,” Spicer said.

Sen. Tom Cotton had multiple conversations with the White House about the possibility of McMaster becoming national security adviser, an aide to the Arkansas Republican said Monday.

“H.R McMaster is one of the finest combat leaders of our generation and also a great strategic mind. He is a true warrior scholar, and I’m confident he will serve both the president and the country well,” Cotton said in a statement.

Cotton’s loyalty to McMaster showed up in 2007, when the senator actually went so far as to send in his resignation papers to the Army. According to his office, one of the reasons was because McMaster had been passed over for elevation to a one-star general. Cotton ultimately stayed on active duty until transferring to the Army Reserve in 2010.

At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Spicer said McMaster will have personnel authority, an issue that other candidates for the job insisted on before ultimately pulling out of consideration.

“He is the national security adviser, and he will have whatever he needs to implement a successful team,” he said.

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