WASHINGTON — Mark Esper was confirmed as defense secretary Tuesday, giving the Pentagon its first fully installed leader since the end of last year.
Esper, the current secretary of the Army, was confirmed with a 90-8 vote. The eight no votes were all Democrats: Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Jeff Merkley, Ed Markey, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Elizabeth Warren. Five of the eight are seeking the 202 Democratic presidential nominations.
He is expected to be sworn in Tuesday night, Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters.
Since James Mattis resigned on December 31, three individuals have been acting defense secretary — Patrick Shanahan, who served more than six months until June 21; Esper and now Richard Spencer, who is the Navy secretary.
It was the longest period the Pentagon has gone without a confirmed leader in its history. There had been only two acting defense secretaries in Pentagon history.
Once Esper is sworn in as defense secretary, Spencer will slide over to become the acting deputy defense secretary until a formal nomination of David Norquist is confirmed by the Senate.
Norquist, who has been performing the duties of that role since January. His formal nomination was to be sent to the Senate on Tuesday and a confirmation hearing is tentatively set for Wednesday.
Shanahan had been pegged to be nominated for the full secretary position but withdrew his name from nomination after reports surfaced of domestic violence incidents in his family’s past.
Esper’s confirmation will also open the way to other formal nominations and Senate votes for the roughly 18 top positions open in the Pentagon. One more vacancy occurred last week with the resignation of David Trachtenberg, the Pentagon’s second-ranking civilian policy official.
Esper graduated from West Point in 1986, a classmate of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He served as an Army infantryman in the 1990-91 Gulf War and commanded an airborne rifle company in Europe. His service earned him a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.
He also served in the Army Reserve and National Guard, the first secretary of defense to do all three elements of the military.
He also was a top lobbyist for Raytheon, a defense industry giant. This caused Warren and others to voice concerns about his close ties and his reluctance to offer a blanket recall on all things involving Raytheon. He also worked on Capitol Hill as a Senate committee staffer and served a military advisor to some Senate offices.