Politics

Senate confirms Mark Esper to lead Pentagon

Key Points
  • The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to lead the Pentagon, approving the Gulf War veteran by a vote of 90-8.
  • The Defense Secretary post has been vacant since Jim Mattis resigned last December.
Secretary of the Army Mark Esper listens to military family members in South Korea on Jan. 9, 2018.
Staff Sgt. Carl Greenwell | US Army

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to lead the Pentagon, approving the Gulf War veteran by a vote of 90-8.

Esper's confirmation gives the Defense Department its first permanent leader since Jim Mattis stepped down last year. Esper has been the secretary of the Army since August 2017.

President Donald Trump made Esper acting Defense Secretary after then-acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew from consideration for the permanent job in June. Esper, by rule, had to step down from the acting role during his confirmation process.

Following his stint of active duty, Esper served in the Army Reserve and National Guard before retiring in 2007. The West Point graduate also served as an advisor to former senators Bill Frist and Chuck Hagel and was an executive at Raytheon, a major defense contractor.

Mattis stepped down in December, following Trump's announcement that he planned to pull troops out of Syria. Mattis' resignation letter highlighted where his views on foreign policy differed from Trump's, specifically relative to treatment of foreign allies.

Mattis wrote to Trump that the president had "a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours."

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who was Mattis' deputy, became acting Secretary following Mattis' departure. While in office, Shanahan faced questions about a 2010 domestic violence involving him and his ex-wife in which both parties claimed they were hit by the other.

Shanahan was never charged and denied the allegations, but he withdrew from consideration for the position.

"I never laid a hand on my then-wife and cooperated fully in a thorough law enforcement investigation that resulted in her being charged with assault against me—charges which I had dropped in the interest of my family," Shanahan said in a statement provided to USA Today in June.

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Former Army Gen. David Petraeus said on CNBC's "Halftime Report" that Esper was "well qualified" for the Pentagon's top job. Petraeus also said he thought Esper would push for changes in defense purchasing.

"I think what he will try to do is focus on procurement for the future. Gradually getting us away from ever more purchases of very large, exquisite manned systems into more somewhat simpler, unmanned, but enabled by artificial intelligence, systems," Petraeus said.

Clarification: This version clarifies that Mark Esper, secretary of the Army, was confirmed as Defense secretary on Tuesday. Esper was acting secretary of Defense, but, by rule, had to step down from that role during his confirmation process.