WASHINGTON — The Senate received the formal nomination of Mark Esper to be secretary of defense Monday afternoon, setting off what the Pentagon hopes is a fine-tuned and rapid process to his confirmation.
The Senate received the nomination at 3:04 p.m. EDT. At that point, Esper returned to his office as Army secretary and Richard Spencer, the Navy secretary, became the new acting defense secrecy.
“”Ladies and gentleman, how are we doing today?”, Spencer said as he walked into the Defense Secretary’s office this afternoon to take charge, according to pool reporter Jeff Schogol of Task & Purpose.
Spencer will stay in that role until Esper is confirmed as defense secretary, if he is confirmed. The Senate Armed Services Committee is to hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination Tuesday morning.
“Secretary Spencer has the full authority and responsibility of the Secretary of Defense,” Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement. “The senior team supporting the Office of the Secretary remains in place to ensure institutional continuity. Notably, this includes David Norquist, the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)/Chief Financial Officer, who continues to perform the duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford; and Eric Chewning, the Chief of Staff for the Department of Defense.”
With Spencer’s elevation, Thomas Modly, the Under Secretary of the Navy, becomes Acting Secretary of the Navy. With Esper returning to his job as Secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy returns to his position as Under Secretary of the Army.
On Monday morning, Esper, Spencer, Dunford and Norquist met for a review of current and likely issues to ensure all key parties are on the same baseline, Eric Chewning, the acting Pentagon chief of staff, told reporters on Monday.
Spencer plans to follow the established defense secretary’s calendar of activities, Chewning said.
The Pentagon, working with Senate leaders, hope to have the nomination hearing on Tuesday, a committee vote on the Esper nomination on Wednesday and, if that vote is favorable, action by the full Senate on Thursday.
Chewning cautioned that the expedited timetable is not guaranteed.
“We re not going to assume this is going to take a short period of time,” Chewning told reporters.
The Pentagon has been without a confirmed leader since James Mattis resigned on Dec. 31, 2018.
Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was elevated to the acting defense secretary role on Jan. 1 , 2019, and President Donald Trump said he would nominate him for the full job. That never happened and in June Shanahan withdrew from consideration and resigned his post as deputy following revelations of domestic incidents in his past.
Shanahan served 174 days — the longest by far of any acting defense secretary.
Prior to this year, there have been only two acting defense secretaries. With Spencer’s elevation, there have been three this year alone.
At least 18 individuals are serving as “acting” in top Pentagon positions.