The Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Mark Esper to be President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE‘s next Pentagon chief, capping off a rollercoaster six months since former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike The Hill’s Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill MORE‘s resignation.
The confirmation of Esper makes him the first Senate-approved Defense secretary since late December.
The vote comes as the Trump administration juggles multiple foreign policy challenges, including growing tensions with Iran, talk of new sanctions against Turkey and lingering congressional pushback over the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Ky.) praised Esper ahead of the vote, noting that a second Senate-confirmed Defense secretary is “beyond urgent.”
“The nominee is beyond qualified. His record of public service is beyond impressive. His commitment to serving our service members is beyond obvious and the need for a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense is beyond urgent,” he added.
The vote marks the end of a months-long effort to find a replacement for Mattis, who resigned amid deep military and foreign policy strategy disagreements with Trump. It also caps off the longest period the Pentagon has gone with an acting secretary.
Trump had been expected to nominate then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract MORE, who ultimately withdrew himself from consideration amid multiple reports describing past domestic violence incidents involving his family.
Instead, Trump quickly put forward Esper; senators have ushered him through his confirmation process at a break neck speed.
The Senate Armed Services Committee approved his nomination by a voice vote on Thursday, waiving the panel’s rule that there has to be seven days between a confirmation hearing and the committee vote.
Esper’s ascension comes amid a shakeup amid top military and Pentagon officials. The Pentagon announced last week that its Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy David Trachtenberg, its No. 2 policy official, is retiring.
A number of leadership positions don’t have permanent Senate-confirmed officials including the deputy Defense secretary, Army secretary and Air Force secretary.
Esper was confirmed as Army secretary by the Senate 89-6 in the fall of 2017. A former infantry officer, Esper previously served as a top executive at the defense contractor Raytheon before joining the Trump administration.
His nomination appeared to be on a glide path after a largely noncontroversial confirmation hearing last week.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin Health care moves to center stage in Democratic primary fight Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress MORE (D-Va.) gave him a glowing review as he introduced him at the confirmation hearing.
“Most of us were very discouraged by the resignation of Secretary Mattis, and what we’ve hoped for is a successor who could show the same level of candor and principle and a willingness to remain independent even in the most challenging circumstances,” Kaine said.
“I believe that Dr. Esper has those traits and would encourage all of my colleagues to support this nomination.”
Esper did run into pushback from Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission MORE (D-Mass.), a member of the committee who is running for president, over ethics concerns related to his earlier employment at Raytheon.
Warren wanted to know if Esper would commit to forgoing employment with a defense contractor, or payments of any kind from a defense firm, for at least four years after his government service.
“No senator, I will not,” Esper replied.