Secretary Defense nominee Mark Esper clears Senate committee

Secretary Defense nominee Mark Esper clears Senate committee Secretary Defense nominee Mark Esper clears Senate committee
Caitlin M. Kenney Stars and Stripes Army Secretary Mark Esper’s nomination to be the next defense secretary was approved Thursday in a voice vote... Secretary Defense nominee Mark Esper clears Senate committee

Caitlin M. Kenney
Stars and Stripes

Army Secretary Mark Esper’s nomination to be the next defense secretary was approved Thursday in a voice vote by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Esper’s nomination now moves to a full Senate vote, which Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the committee chairman, has said could happen as early as Monday.

Army Gen. Mark Milley was also approved by the committee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with 1,231 other pending military nominations, according to a Senate Armed Services Committee statement.

The Pentagon has been without a confirmed defense secretary since Jim Mattis left Dec. 31. Since then, there have been three acting defense secretaries, including Esper, in seven months. Richard Spencer, the Navy secretary, is the acting defense secretary while Esper goes through the Senate confirmation process.

During Esper’s confirmation hearing Tuesday, he was confronted with questions by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., about his previous position as a lobbyist at Raytheon and the potential conflicts of interests that he might face with his former employer — the third-largest defense contractor in the country.

Warren pushed Esper to agree to extending his recusal commitment beyond November, which would prohibit him from participating in any decisions related to Raytheon until he is no longer defense secretary. Esper responded that the Pentagon’s ethics personnel recommended that he not extend his commitment. Warren also wanted him to commit to never seek a waiver to participate in matters regarding Raytheon’s financial interest.

“No senator I won’t,” Esper said Tuesday about to the waivers commitment. “Because I’m going to continue to abide by the rules and regulations and I’m going to continue to consult closely with my ethics personnel to ensure that we stay on the ethical midfield.”

Because Esper would not make the commitments that she requested, Warren said he should not be confirmed as defense secretary. On Thursday, Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., both presidential candidates, voted “no” on Esper’s nomination, according to a committee aide.

Esper’s hearing came one day after his nomination by President Donald Trump. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s leadership had scheduled the hearing a week before, saying they were suspending the traditional seven-day waiting period between receiving a nomination and voting on the nominee due to the urgency to fill the Pentagon’s top position.

If Esper is confirmed, the next person to be nominated will be David Norquist as the deputy defense secretary, a job for which he has been performing the duties since Patrick Shanahan left that position to be the acting defense secretary in January. Norquist is also the Pentagon’s chief financial officer and Trump announced June 21 his intent to nominate him for deputy defense secretary. The Senate Armed Services Committee has already scheduled his confirmation hearing for July 24.

If Norquist is officially nominated, he would step back into his role as comptroller full-time and Spencer would then step in to perform the duties of deputy defense secretary, according to Eric Chewning, the acting defense secretary’s chief of staff.

“So think of Secretary Spencer as our swing player as we work through the role,” he said.

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