WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly confirmed military veteran and Army Secretary Mark Esper as secretary of defense, giving the Department of Defense a Senate-confirmed leader for the first time in seven months.
Esper has been the secretary of the Army since November 2017 and led the Defense Department in an acting capacity for less than a month, from June 24 to July 15. After serving in the Army for more than a decade, Esper worked on Capitol Hill and at the defense contractor Raytheon.
“The nominee is beyond qualified,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
President Donald Trump tapped Esper to officially lead the Department of Defense after his previous nominee, Patrick Shanahan, withdrew from consideration for the job amid complex domestic violence allegations dating back to 2010, in which Shanahan and his then-wife each accused the other of being the aggressor.
Esper faced questions during his nomination hearing earlier this month about his work for Raytheon. Presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pressed Esper to commit to recusing himself from any issues involving Raytheon, but he declined to do so, saying ethics officials at the Pentagon had not made such a recommendation.
Esper also demurred when asked if he would promise not to seek a waiver that would allow him to participate in issues that would directly affect his former employer’s bottom line, though he said he has never asked for one.
Warren was unsatisfied with Esper’s answers, saying the potential for him to ask for a waiver that would allow him to participate in issues that could bring money to a company that still owes him a large payout “smacks of corruption, plain and simple.”
“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,” Warren, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said at Esper’s nomination hearing on July 16.
Esper earned confirmation with a 90-8 vote on Tuesday afternoon. Trump’s first secretary of defense, James Mattis, left his position last December after penning a resignation letter that was critical of the president’s approach to foreign policy.
The position has been filled by officials who did not receive confirmation from the Senate ever since.