Senate confirms Esper to be Trump's Defense chief

The Senate voted on Tuesday to confirm Mark Esper to be President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE's next Pentagon chief, capping off a rollercoaster six months since former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThreatening foreign states with sanctions can backfire Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Amazon to challenge Pentagon's 'war cloud' decision in federal court 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday McConnell: Senate impeachment trial will begin in January 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 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, 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 breakneck 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 of 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 appointments 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 That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Key House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills 'Granite Express' flight to take staffers, journalists to NH after Iowa caucuses 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,” he said.

Esper did run into pushback from Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Buttigieg says he doubts consulting work for insurer led to layoffs Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles 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.