The Senate voted 90-8 Tuesday to confirm former Army secretary Mark Esper as the new secretary of Defense. Among the eight senators voting against Esper were five (Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren) who are running for president. Bernie Sanders did not cast a vote.
Esper’s confirmation gives the Defense Department a permanent leader for the first time since Jim Mattis’s abrupt departure from the Trump administration in early January. When Mattis left, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan stepped in as acting Defense secretary, a title he kept for months. But in June, as Shanahan underwent an FBI background check, his nomination was withdrawn. The Times reported that Shanahan had previously been accused of domestic violence.
Esper’s confirmation was relatively seamless. The former Capitol Hill staffer and Heritage Foundation chief of staff is a West Point graduate who served 21 years in the Army. He also worked for a time as a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon. This led to the most interesting moment in his confirmation hearings, when Senator Warren pushed him to recuse himself from any decisions relating to the company for the duration of his time in government.
Esper’s confirmation ends the Defense Department’s longest period ever without a permanent leader.