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 abortion case poses major test for Trump picks Supreme Court to hear Louisiana abortion case 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 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 TrumpBusiness school deans call for lifting country-specific visa caps Bolton told ex-Trump aide to call White House lawyers about Ukraine pressure campaign: report Federal prosecutors in New York examining Giuliani business dealings with Ukraine: report 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."

 

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 MattisUS leaves dozens of 'high value' ISIS detainees behind amid Syria retreat: report White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions 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 McConnellFury over Trump Syria decision grows Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Trump: Let Assad, Russia or China protect the Kurds 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.

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 BookerHillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill O'Rourke hits back at Buttigieg over criticism of his gun buyback proposal Progressives fume at Buttigieg, warn him not to attack Warren at debate MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a 'triumph of substance over the theatre' Three 2020 candidates have missed about half of Senate votes MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisO'Rourke hits back at Buttigieg over criticism of his gun buyback proposal Warren leads Democratic field by 3 points in new national poll Analysis: Warren and Booker most cyber-aware 2020 candidates MORE (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Ocasio-Cortez taps supporters for donations as former primary opponent pitches for Kennedy Rep. Joe Kennedy has history on his side in Senate bid MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Democratic senator on Trump's 'treason' comments about whistleblower: 'I worry about threats on his or her life' Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill Feehery: Trump may be down, but he's not out yet MORE (Mass.), and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats PhRMA CEO warns Pelosi bill to lower drug prices would be 'devastating' for industry 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 DuckworthMissouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Democrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall 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 InhofeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about GOP senators attack whistleblower's credibility 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.

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.

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 InhofeThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about GOP senators attack whistleblower's credibility MORE did not attend the meeting, but all other Republican lawmakers on the committee were there, including Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonZuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats On The Money: Fed officials saw rising risk of recession | Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz blast NBA for 'outrageous' response to China | Prospects dim for trade breakthrough with China MORE (Ark.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump official declines to testify on trade protections for tech | Senators call for better info-sharing on supply chain threats | Apple pulls app after Chinese pressure Key Democrat presses FTC over Facebook settlement's 'dangerous precedent' Cyber rules for self-driving cars stall in Congress MORE (Miss), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerStatue of Chief Standing Bear to be unveiled in Capitol The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow MORE (Neb.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay Ernst10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy MORE (Iowa), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP 'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks MORE (S.D.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall MORE (Alaska), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTillis says impeachment is 'a waste of resources' GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising MORE (N.C.), David Perdue (Ga.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions MORE (Ariz.), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerWhite House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback Sunday shows — Officials rush to Trump's defense on Syria, sanctions GOP senator defends Trump's decision on Syria MORE (N.D.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyZuckerberg defends meetings with conservative politicians, pundits Senators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Hillicon Valley: Senate Intel report urges action to prevent 2020 Russian meddling | Republicans warn Microsoft of 'urgent' Huawei threat | Court rules FBI surveillance violated Americans' rights MORE (Mo.), and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnCongress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Hillicon Valley: Iranian hacking operation targeted campaign, government accounts | House panel pushes Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Trump officials step up attacks on Facebook encryption 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 WhitehouseDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Trump DOJ under fire over automaker probe The Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks 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

-- The Hill: Iranian admiral: 'We observe all enemy ships' including US

-- The Hill: Pakistan PM: Without Trump, conflict in Afghanistan could have continued another 19 years

-- The Hill: Afghan president responds to Trump saying he could end war in a week

-- The Hill: South Korean jets fire warning shots at Russian military plane

-- The Hill: Opinion: NATO's disappearing navies invite trouble in the Baltic Sea

-- The Hill: Opinion: Solidarity between Trump and Khan could herald a new future for U.S.-Pakistan partnership

-- The Hill: Opinion: The US must restore diplomacy and leadership for a safer world

-- Military Times: Lawmakers, lawsuit want VA to reconsider delays for 'blue water' veterans claims

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