Senate panel eyes Tuesday hearing for Defense secretary nominee

Senate panel eyes Tuesday hearing for Defense secretary nominee
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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 InhofeTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions 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 MattisAmash rips Trump over move to send troops from Syria to Iraq Defense chief says US troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours MORE announced his resignation in December.

At the same time, they have cautioned about cutting corners in vetting after President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE’s first choice for the job, Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary 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 ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington 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.