The Pentagon is no longer topless. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Mark Esper as the United States’ first permanent defense secretary in more than seven months.
Esper is expected to be sworn in as defense secretary later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.
“We are grateful for the Senate leadership and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s willingness to quickly move through this process,” Hoffman said.
Tuesday’s vote confirming Esper marks the end of uncertainty about who will lead the Pentagon since former Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in December to protest President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, leaving U.S. Kurdish allies at the mercy of the Turks. The president subsequently reversed his decision.
Patrick Shanahan became acting defense secretary on Jan. 1 and Trump announced on May 9 that he would nominate Shanahan to replace Mattis, but Esper stepped in as acting defense secretary on June 24 after Shanahan was felled by domestic abuse allegations.
Due to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Esper reverted back to Army secretary on July 15 when the Senate received his nomination to lead the Pentagon. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has been serving as acting defense secretary since then.
A former lobbyist for Raytheon, Esper had been serving as Army secretary since November 2017. During his confirmation hearing to become defense secretary, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) interrogated Esper about whether his ties to defense industry posed a conflict of interest.
Warren, who is running for president, interrupted Esper several times during the hearing to ask if he would make decisions as defense secretary that would benefit Raytheon.
She also argued that Esper’s nomination was tainted because he is expected to receive about $1 million in deferred compensation from Raytheon after 2022, yet he would be allowed as defense secretary to make decisions “affecting Raytheon’s bottom line” and his own financial interests.
“This smacks of corruption, plain and simple,” Warren said. “Secretary Esper, the American people deserve to know that you’re making decisions in our country’s best security interests, not in your own financial interests. You can’t make those commitments to this committee. That means you should not be confirmed as secretary of defense.”
Esper pushed back by saying he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he was 18 years old and he has abided by the values of “duty, honor, and country” ever since.
“I went to war for this country; I have served overseas for this country; I have stepped down from jobs that have paid me well more than when I was working anywhere else,” Esper said. “And each time it was to serve the public good and to serve the young men and women in our armed services. So no, I disagree. I think the presumption is for some reason, anybody who comes from the business or the corporate world is corrupt.”
Now that he is confirmed as defense secretary, Esper will delegate all the duties of deputy defense secretary to Spencer while the Senate considers David Norquist’s nomination for the job, Hoffman said. Norquist will revert back to the Pentagon’s comptroller during the confirmation process.
The Pentagon needs to fill 20 other senior positions that are currently vacant. Most recently, David Trachtenberg resigned on July 19 as undersecretary of defense for policy.