Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief

Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief
© Getty Images

Mark Esper was sworn in as Defense secretary on Tuesday evening, officially ending the Pentagon’s longest-ever period without a Senate-confirmed leader.

The swearing-in, conducted by Supreme Court Justice Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoSupreme Court sharply divided over state aid for religious schools Appeals court appears wary of letting Trump reinstate death sentences Justices grapple with 'Bridgegate' convictions MORE in the Oval Office, came hours after the Senate confirmed Esper in a 90-8 vote.

“That’s a vote that we’re not accustomed to,” President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE said during the ceremony.


“I am confident that he will be an outstanding secretary of defense,” Trump added. “I have absolutely no doubt about it. He is outstanding in every way. We’re honored to have you aboard.”

Esper’s swearing-in winds down a period of unprecedented leadership turmoil at the Pentagon.

The Defense Department has been without a confirmed secretary since former Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Trump called top military brass 'a bunch of dopes and babies' in 2017: book MORE resigned in December in protest of Trump’s since-reversed plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanEsper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Defense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall MORE took the helm as acting secretary in January, and the White House announced in May that Trump would nominate him for the full-time job.

But reports of domestic violence incidents involving his family during a messy divorce prompted Shanahan to bow out in June.

Esper’s confirmation, by contrast, came together with remarkable speed. The White House announced Trump would nominate him in mid-June. He was officially nominated last week, followed by his confirmation hearing a day later and committee approval two days after that.

Esper, a West Point graduate, had been Army secretary since 2017. Before that, he was the top lobbyist at defense contractor Raytheon. His career also includes stints as a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and House Armed Services Committee.

“It is an honor of a lifetime to be appointed secretary of defense and to lead the greatest military in history,” Esper said at his swearing-in. “And I will do so with that same energy and commitment to honor, duty and country that I have for nearly four decades, since my early days at West Point.”

Though the Pentagon’s top job is now filled, several other posts remain vacant, including deputy Defense secretary, Air Force secretary and chief management officer.

The vacancies mean Esper’s swearing-in kicks off another temporary leadership shuffle at the Pentagon.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, who has been serving as acting Defense secretary since last week, will now assume the duties of deputy Defense secretary while the nominee for that position, David Norquist, goes through the confirmation process.

Norquist, the Pentagon's comptroller, has been acting as deputy since January. He was officially nominated for the job earlier Tuesday, and his confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

In the Army, Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy will become acting Army secretary. Army General Counsel James McPherson will assume the duties of Army under secretary.