The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nomination of Mark Esper to be the new U.S. Secretary of Defense on Thursday.
Until he was nominated, Esper had been serving as Acting Defense Secretary since the previous Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down in June. With the committee voting to move forward with Esper’s confirmation, his nomination will next go before the full Senate.
Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said earlier this week that a final confirmation vote for Esper would take place no later than next Tuesday.
Esper’s hearing before the committee featured a tense exchange with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who challenged Esper’s refusal to completely recuse himself from any and all matters related to Raytheon, the defense contractor for which he served as a lobbyist before joining the government. Esper said that ethics personnel told him not to fully recuse himself.
Earlier in the hearing, he said he was “fully committed to living up to my ethics commitments.”
In a statement on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Esper as “a man of honor and integrity, dedicated to our nation and committed to the men and women who serve in uniform.” He also said, “I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting his confirmation as soon as it can reach the floor.”
If confirmed, Esper would be the first permanent Defense Secretary since James Mattis stepped down at the end of 2018. Shanahan, who filled the role on an interim basis afterwards, had been considered for the permanent job, but reportedly withdrew due to a 2010 domestic incident that he did not want to be brought up during the confirmation process.
For the duration of Esper’s confirmation process, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer has assumed the role of Acting Defense Secretary, since federal law forbids people under consideration for a permanent secretary position to serve as acting secretary.