The Senate Armed Services Committee intends to hold a confirmation hearing for Mark Esper, the president’s pick to be the next Defense secretary, on Tuesday even though the panel is still waiting to receive his official nomination from the White House.
The committee cannot hold Esper’s hearing until the White House delivers his formal nomination paperwork, but have tentatively planned the hearing anyway believing they will soon receive the nomination.
“We’re depending on doing this on Tuesday,” Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma said. “If we get the documents from the White House, the answer’s yes.”
Inhofe said he expects to receive the official nomination by Monday. Standing alongside Inhofe just off the Senate floor, Luke Holland, Inhofe’s chief of staff, said they’re expecting the paperwork “any minute now.”
The committee’s rules dictate it wait seven days between receiving a formal nomination and voting out the nominee. But the panel has waived the rule in the past, and plans to do so for Esper’s nomination, according to a Thursday press statement.
The Senate is hoping to hold Esper’s confirmation hearing and vote on his nomination before Congress’s planned August recess.
“We need to get it done,” Inhofe said, “get it done before the recess.”
Earlier this week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also expressed a sense of urgency in filling the top position at the Pentagon.
“We really need a confirmed secretary of Defense at the earliest possible time,” the Kentucky Republican said. “ I’ve been communicating with both the administration and the Armed Services Committee to move this along as rapidly as possible and I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to do that before the August recess.”
That ambitious schedule leaves the Senate less than a month to hold a vote on Esper’s nomination and fill one of the most important cabinet positions, which has been vacant since former Secretary James Mattis retired in December.
Perhaps as important, it leaves the Senate little time to vet Esper. By all accounts Esper, a West Point graduate, has a sterling record as a former Army officer, Hill staffer, corporate lobbyist and outgoing Army secretary. But personal scandals recently derailed Patrick Shanahan’s nomination to be Defense secretary and Adm. William Moran, whom the Senate confirmed as chief of naval operations and was set to start his new job in August.
Esper will certainly be put on the record regarding any possible past indiscretions. For example, Armed Services Committee member Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), asks all nominees who come before the panel if they have ever, since becoming a legal adult, engaged in any sort of sexual harassment.
If Esper can prove a clean personal history, he will more than likely earn the job with little resistance.
Both Republicans and Democrats are hoping to fill the many vacant Pentagon positions as soon as possible, including a new deputy secretary, an Army secretary to replace Esper and chief of naval operations, among others.
To date, Esper has received a vote of confidence from his former boss Chuck Hagel, who served as defense secretary under President Barack Obama. Esper served as Hagel’s legislative director when Hagel served in the Senate as a Republican.
Esper has also received praise from congressional Democrats for his work as Army secretary on that service’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal.
Rather than requesting billions more to modernize the Army’s weapons systems, Esper and other Army officials analyzed more than 500 programs to find those that no longer made sense and to use the savings from those projects to fund their priorities.
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