Overnight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault

Overnight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault
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THE TOPLINE: 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 denies Trump request to immediately resume federal executions Justices appear cautious of expanding gun rights in NY case The ACLU's own Twitter feed shows what's at stake when 'sex' is redefined MORE in the Oval OfficE. The swearing-in, conducted by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in the Oval Office, came hours after the Senate confirmed Esper in a 90-8 vote.

Praise from Trump: "That's a vote that we're not accustomed to," President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE said during the ceremony.

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"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."

 

The timing: The Senate's vote to confirm Esper to be Trump's next Pentagon chief, capped 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 as the 27th official head of the Pentagon makes him the first Senate-approved Defense secretary since late December.

Big challenges: 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.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Biden: 'No party should have too much power' Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill 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.

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Months of waiting: 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.

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 vote: The Senate voted 90-8, with the eight opposing votes all Democrats -- Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' Booker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWhite House, Congress near deal to give 12 weeks paid parental leave to all federal workers Bloomberg on 2020 rivals blasting him for using his own money: 'They had a chance to go out and make a lot of money' Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' Booker on Harris dropping out: 'Iowa voters should have the right to choose' Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race MORE (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyThere's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trump administration drops plan to face scan all travelers leaving or entering US Advocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyMcConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Warren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE (Mass.), and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Congressional leaders unite to fight for better future for America's children and families McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug bill MORE (Ore.). Five of them, Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren, are running for the 2020 presidential Democratic nomination.

The Senate Armed Services Committee had 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.

Background: 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.

 

SENATE PANEL MEETS WITH HYTEN ACCUSER: The woman accusing the nominee to be the No. 2 general in the country of sexual assault testified privately Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, two Democratic senators confirmed.

Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Democratic senators push EPA to abandon methane rollback MORE (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sit on the committee, said the panel met with Gen. John Hyten's accuser during its closed-door Tuesday morning business meeting.

"I found her very believable," Duckworth told reporters. "I do think it becomes a he-said-she-said kind of situation, but I have some questions after listening to her testimony where I'm going to try to follow up and seek some sort of clarification."

Blumenthal said the committee met with the woman for "several hours," adding that he will have the woman's account "very closely looked at" because "the survivor deserves respect and serious consideration."

Earlier in the day, committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East MORE (R-Okla.) declined to comment on the meeting, telling reporters only that "you know what we're discussing."

The next step: Senators had previously been briefed by defense officials on the accusations against Hyten, who President Trump has nominated to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Duckworth and Blumenthal said the committee is also scheduled to meet with Hyten himself later this week.

The committee has a business meeting scheduled for Thursday morning to "consider pending military nominations," according to a notice.

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What we know: The female officer told The Associated Press that Hyten subjected her to unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 when she was one of his aides. She further alleged that when she rebuffed him, he tried to derail her military career.

An Air Force investigation cleared Hyten of the allegations, but some senators have questioned how the investigation was carried out.

The accusations have stalled Hyten's confirmation process as the Armed Services Committee debates about to proceed.

What we don't know: Duckworth said Tuesday's meeting with the woman left her with questions about "why Hyten has been treated differently than other high-ranking officers, or any officers for that matter, who have similar accusations against them."

She added that "there are quite a number of us on the Democratic side" who believe "there are many other officers who could do this job."

Time crunch: Senators are facing a time crunch in filling the vice chairman role as the current vice chairman, Gen. Paul Selva, is slated to retire at the end of July.

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The pending vacancy is one of several that have senators concerned about a leadership vacuum at the Pentagon.

 

GOP SENATORS TALK TURKEY SANCTIONS AT WHITE HOUSE: A group of 45 Republican senators traveled to the White House for a meeting with President Trump on potential Turkish sanctions.

The White House revealed little of the meeting as of Tuesday afternoon, and only released the topic of the gathering and the names of the senators that attended.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East MORE did not attend the meeting, but all other Republican lawmakers on the committee were there, including Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week Hillicon Valley: FTC rules Cambridge Analytica engaged in 'deceptive practices' | NATO researchers warn social media failing to remove fake accounts | Sanders calls for breaking up Comcast, Verizon MORE (Ark.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThere's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE (Miss), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerSenate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Female lawmakers make bipartisan push for more women in politics at All In Together gala MORE (Neb.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP senators unveil bill to expand 'opportunity zone' reporting requirements Giffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Democratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him MORE (Iowa), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars MORE (S.D.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanSenators inch forward on federal privacy bill Romney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution GOP worries it's losing impeachment fight MORE (Alaska), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 MORE (N.C.), David Perdue (Ga.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHere are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 Planned Parenthood targets GOP senators in seven-figure ad campaign MORE (Ariz.), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Trump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' MORE (N.D.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyLawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok Tech finds surprise ally in Trump amid high-stakes tax fight TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week MORE (Mo.), and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnLawsuits pose new challenge for TikTok TikTok's leader to meet with lawmakers next week Overnight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty MORE (Tenn.).

 

Why it matters: The United States last week officially booted Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program over the NATO ally's purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.

The sale puts into play congressionally mandated sanctions, which fall under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and are imposed when a U.S. partner buys Russian military equipment.

President Trump said Thursday that he has not yet made a decision on whether to impose the sanctions.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak off the record at the Navy League of the United States and the Shipbuilders Council of America at the annual Shipbuilding Caucus breakfast event at 8 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2044.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson will speak on "A Review of the Nuclear Posture Review, National Security Strategy, and Nuclear Deterrence," at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

Retired Adm. Scott Swift, the former commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, and other defense experts will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' ninth annual South China Sea Conference at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold the confirmation hearing of David Norquist to be deputy secretary of defense at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate office Building, room G50. 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseTrump brings pardoned soldiers on stage at Florida fundraiser: report Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Pelosi warns of 'existential' climate threat, vows bold action MORE (D-R.I.) will speak on "Dialogues on American Foreign Policy and World Affairs" at 12 p.m. at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. 

Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Fritz Barth will speak at an Institute of World Politics lecture on "Artificial Intelligence Initiatives: U.S. and Chinese Strategies," at 4 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

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-- Reuters: Bulgaria president vetoes $1.26 billion deal for F-16 fighter jets