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 AlitoOvernight 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 Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief Trump pays respects to late Justice Stevens at Supreme Court 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 TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' 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 MattisOnly Donald Trump has a policy for Afghanistan New Pentagon report blames Trump troop withdrawal for ISIS surge in Iraq and Syria Mattis returns to board of General Dynamics 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 McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans 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 ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' 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 BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyJoseph Kennedy mulling primary challenge to Markey in Massachusetts Overnight Energy: Trump sparks new fight over endangered species protections | States sue over repeal of Obama power plant rules | Interior changes rules for ethics watchdogs To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility Senate Dem seeks answers from DHS on reports of pregnant asylum seekers sent back to Mexico Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (Mass.), and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity 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 DuckworthOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault Overnight Defense: General accused of sexual assault to get confirmation hearing | Senate to vote Monday on overriding Saudi arms deal veto | Next Joint Chiefs chair confirmed | Graham tries to ease Turkey tensions 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 InhofeSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line 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 InhofeSenate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Democrats, environmentalists blast Trump rollback of endangered species protections Bottom Line MORE did not attend the meeting, but all other Republican lawmakers on the committee were there, including Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator says he suggested Greenland purchase to Trump, met with Danish ambassador It's time to empower military families with education freedom Cotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' MORE (Ark.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerWill Congress act to stop robocalls? Hillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? MORE (Miss), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow GOP senator introduces bill banning 'addictive' social media features MORE (Neb.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstErnst town hall in Iowa gets contentious over guns Air Force probe finds no corroboration of sexual assault allegations against Trump pick Gun control activists set to flex muscle in battle for Senate MORE (Iowa), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsThe Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate Senate braces for brawl over Trump's spy chief 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 (S.D.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanOvernight 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 Alarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure MORE (Alaska), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Gun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies MORE (N.C.), David Perdue (Ga.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries MORE (Ariz.), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerCastro, Steyer join pledge opposing the Keystone XL pipeline EPA proposes rolling back states' authority over pipeline projects GOP senator held up Trump aide's confirmation to get info on border wall contracts MORE (N.D.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHillicon Valley: Facebook releases audit on bias claims | Audit fails to calm critics | Federal agencies hit with fewer cyberattacks in 2018 | Huawei founder says company faces 'live or die' moment Facebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE (Mo.), and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnTaylor Swift defends staying out of the 2016 election: 'I just knew I wasn't going to help' The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal Senate passes sweeping budget deal, sending it to Trump 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 WhitehouseSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility To cash in on innovation, remove market barriers for advanced energy technologies Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax 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