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Mark Esper Sworn In as Next Defense Secretary

Mark T. Esper answers questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., July 16, 2019. US Army Photo

This post was updated with additional information from the Pentagon.

Army Secretary Mark Esper has been confirmed to serve as the next secretary of defense in a 90-8 vote in the Senate on Tuesday. He was sworn in during an Oval Office ceremony on Tuesday evening.

Esper assumes the position after a seven-month vacancy following the sudden resignation of former SECDEF James Mattis on Jan 1.

During his confirmation hearing last week, Esper committed to the tenets of Mattis’ National Defense Strategy and promised to keep the military prepared for conflict with capable adversaries like Russia and China.

“I’m am an avid supporter of the National Defense Strategy and its clear-eyed assessment of the strategic environment we find ourselves in today,” Esper said during his opening statement. “The growing threats posed by great power competitors such as China and Russia warrant a re-focus to high-intensity conflict across all of the military services. This requires us to modernize our forces and capitalize on rapid technological advancements in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, directed energy and hypersonics.”

Esper is a 1986 West Point graduate with 10 years of service on active duty and 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserves before retiring in 2007. He also worked as Raytheon’s top lobbyist.

Esper is under a two-year ban from being involved in Pentagon negotiations or contracts involving Raytheon. The ban started when he became the Army secretary and will expire in November.

Eight Democrats voted against Esper’s confirmation, including five senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to a readout of the votes from Politico.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), among the no votes, pressed Esper with questions during his confirmation hearing on his connections to the defense industry.

Warren, “expressed her concerns over Esper’s deferred compensation package from Raytheon and the appearance of him receiving at least $1 million from a company actively doing business with the Department of Defense. These are payments Esper is due for work he already performed for the Raytheon,” reported USNI News last week.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer has been serving as acting SECDEF pending Esper’s confirmation. In a briefing with reporters, Department of Defense spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that Spencer would fill in as the Pentagon’s number two from David Norquist.

“One of the very first things that [Esper] will do as secretary of defense, is to delegate all duties of the deputy secretary of defense to Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, who has been acting secretary of defense since July 15th.
“At that time, Mr. Norquist will cease to perform the duties of the deputy secretary, and he will solely serve as the undersecretary of defense comptroller, chief financial officer, while under consideration by the Senate. This is done out of deference to the Senate, to not presume confirmation.”