Senate panel eyes Tuesday hearing for Defense secretary nominee

Senate panel eyes Tuesday hearing for Defense secretary nominee
© Getty Images

The Senate Armed Services Committee plans to hold Mark Esper’s confirmation hearing to be Defense secretary as soon as Tuesday, committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGillibrand expects vote on military justice bill in fall The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden backs Cuban protesters, assails 'authoritarian regime' Trump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore MORE (R-Okla.) said Thursday.

The Tuesday timing is contingent on the White House delivering all of Esper’s paperwork to the Senate by Monday, Inhofe told reporters.

"We need Senate-confirmed leadership at the Pentagon, and quickly," Inhofe added in a statement later Thursday. "While we will act expeditiously to consider acting Secretary Esper’s expected nomination, the committee will uphold our constitutional advice-and-consent responsibilities with the care and consideration this position deserves."


An aide for Inhofe said Thursday morning the committee already received some paperwork for Esper, but not the official nomination forms.

Senators have been eager to get a permanent Defense secretary confirmed — the department has been without a confirmed leader since January after former Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump says Gen. Milley 'last person' he'd want to start a coup with Overnight Defense: Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies at 88 | Trump calls on Milley to resign | House subpanel advances Pentagon spending bill Biden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet MORE announced his resignation in December.

At the same time, they have cautioned about cutting corners in vetting after President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix MORE’s first choice for the job, Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanSenators introducing bill to penalize Pentagon for failed audits Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee Biden Pentagon pick could make up to .7M from leaving Raytheon MORE, bowed out after reports of domestic violence incidents surfaced.

The leadership vacuum has come amid a time of international turmoil, including spiking U.S.-Iran tensions that nearly led Trump to launch a military strike on Iran.

Under normal committee rules, the committee must wait at least a week after receiving nomination paperwork to hold a hearing. But senators agreed to waive that rule for Esper, according to a news release.


"We’re expediting the process, but there are no shortcuts and this nominee, like every nominee to this critical post, must be thoroughly vetted and carefully evaluated,” Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedSenate panel votes to make women register for draft Senators hail 'historic changes' as competing proposals to tackle military sexual assault advance Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of 'nuclear football' | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. “Both Chairman Inhofe and I agree the United States needs a permanent secretary of Defense. We need a confirmed secretary of Defense who is effective, efficient and accountable and in it for the long-haul."

The White House announced in June that Trump intended to nominate Esper for the Defense secretary post, a job he has held in an acting capacity since Shanahan stepped down.

Before becoming acting Defense secretary, Esper served as Army secretary, a job he was confirmed for by a 89-6 vote in fall 2017.

Esper is also a former congressional aide and Raytheon lobbyist who has won praise on both sides of the aisle.

Once Esper is officially nominated, that will kick off another leadership shuffle until he is confirmed.

Because of the Vacancies Act, Esper will return to the job of Army secretary during the confirmation process.

During that time, current Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will serve as acting Defense secretary.

The turmoil in Pentagon leadership is not confined to the civilian side. Trump’s Senate-confirmed choice to the be next chief of naval operations instead resigned Monday after it was revealed he maintained a professional relationship with a former officer who had been reprimanded that officials said called into question his judgment.

And it was revealed Wednesday that the general nominated to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was accused by a female officer of sexual assault. An Air Force investigation cleared Gen. John Hyten of the allegation, but the revelation is still expected to trip up the confirmation process.

Updated at 12:48 p.m.