/Esper confirmed as Defense secretary

Esper confirmed as Defense secretary

Mark Esper

Mark Esper has pledged to largely continue the signature efforts of his predecessors in his new role as Defense secretary. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Defense secretary, Mark Esper, on Tuesday, giving the Pentagon a permanent leader for the first time in nearly seven months.

The vote was 90 to 8. Now Trump’s Army secretary, Esper saw strong bipartisan support despite questions about his ties to Raytheon, a top defense contractor where he had worked as a top lobbyist.

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He’s scheduled to be sworn in Tuesday evening.

Esper’s confirmation brings to a close the longest period without a Senate-confirmed Defense secretary in Pentagon history. The Defense Department has had three acting secretaries, including Esper, since Jim Mattis resigned in December.

A West Point graduate and former congressional aide, Esper proved popular with both parties. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were eager to confirm a new Defense secretary after Trump’s previous pick, Pat Shanahan, imploded amid questions about his personal life.

On the Senate floor, Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) praised Esper as “the right man for the job.”

“He has the trust of our president, the trust of our military, the trust of Congress and the country to keep our nation safe,” Inhofe said.

Still, Esper faced resistance over his tenure at Raytheon, most notably from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), an Armed Services Committee member and presidential contender.

The two sparred over Esper’s ethics agreement, with Warren arguing the nominee hadn’t done enough to guard against potential conflicts of interest — similar to an exchange they had during his 2017 confirmation hearing to be Army secretary.

Warren slammed Esper for refusing to extend his recusal from issues involving Raytheon, which expires in November, to cover his entire Pentagon tenure. And she pressed him to commit to never seek a waiver from his recusal and to not seek employment in the defense industry for four years after leaving government, commitments he declined to make.

“Secretary Esper has real conflicts of interest with Raytheon that he is unwilling to remedy by taking simple, reasonable steps,” Warren said in a statement. “Until he is willing to make these commitments, he should not be confirmed as the Secretary of Defense.”

As with his nomination for Army secretary, Warren voted against Esper on Tuesday.

Esper has pledged to largely continue the signature efforts of his predecessors. He calls himself an “avid supporter” of the National Defense Strategy formulated by Mattis and Shanahan, which seeks to pivot the military toward competing with Russia and China.

He’s also pledged to shore up U.S. alliances, make tough trade-offs to modernize the military and continue efforts to reform the Pentagon bureaucracy.

Tuesday’s vote also comes as the White House and Senate leaders scramble to fill out the top ranks at the Pentagon before lawmakers leave for a month-long summer break in August.

Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, is set to be confirmed as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as soon as this week.

The nominee to be Esper’s deputy, David Norquist, is scheduled to testify at a Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing Wednesday.

The Senate is also set consider Vice Adm. Michael Gilday to be the Navy’s next top officer next week. Gilday was selected after the last pick, Adm. Bill Moran, chose instead to retire amid an investigation into his communication with a former Navy spokesperson cited for sexual misconduct.

And Trump’s pick to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, is in limbo as senators assess an allegation of sexual misconduct levied against him.

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