The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on July 18 approved the nominations of the Pentagon’s top two civil and military officials, paving a path for the full Senate to confirm both Mark Esper as the new Secretary of Defense and Army Gen. Mark Milley as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff early next week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed cloture on Esper’s nomination Thursday afternoon. SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters that a vote on the floor is likely to occur July 22. McConnell did not appear to have filed cloture on Milley’s nomination as of Defense Daily’s deadline.
Milley currently serves as the Army Chief of Staff while Esper is back in his position as Army Secretary after serving 22 days as acting Secretary of Defense following the abrupt departure of Patrick Shanahan in June. While both the nominations are expected to pass the Senate, at least one SASC member has publicly declared opposition to Esper’s nomination.
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had a terse exchange with Esper during his July 16 confirmation hearing with regard to his ethics agreements relating to his past employment as a Raytheon [RTN] lobbyist (Defense Daily, July 16). Inhofe confirmed Thursday that Warren had asked to be recorded as a “No” vote for Esper in the committee’s executive session. He declined to comment on whether any other committee members voted to reject his nomination.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, issued a statement Thursday after meeting with Esper saying he believed Esper is “up to the task” of serving as Secretary of Defense.
Milley’s nomination to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was one of over 1,200 pending military nominations that were approved via voice vote to advance to the floor Thursday morning.
Inhofe has long advocated for a speedy nomination process for Esper, and said he was “very pleased” to be close to the finish line of confirming the two military officials. He added that he wants to move forward with the other nominees for Defense Department positions, of which there are currently 12 besides Milley and Esper.
“I’ve said this to the White House, we need to get more people down there so we can go through the process,” Inhofe said. “But I think we’ve made some headway in getting [these nominations] done.”
Meanwhile, the SASC also said Thursday that it would expedite the nomination process for Undersecretary of Defense/Chief Financial Comptroller David Norquist to become the permanent deputy secretary of defense. Norquest has been performing the duties of deputy secretary of defense since Jan. 1, when Shanahan stepped up from the role to become acting Defense Secretary after Jim Mattis’ resignation.
Assuming it receives a formal nomination from the White House in time, SASC will hold Norquist’s confirmation hearing July 24 at 10 a.m., according to a press announcement.
The committee also plans to move quickly through the nomination of Joint Staff Director Vice Adm. Mike Gilday to become the next Chief of Naval Operations, Inhofe said. The White House announced his formal nomination Thursday morning.
The nomination of U.S. Strategic Command Commander Air Force Gen. John Hyten to become the next Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appears to remain in limbo. Inhofe declined to comment on the nature of the committee’s discussions on the subject during the executive session. Defense One first reported July 11 that Hyten had been investigated for allegations of sexual assault by a former subordinate, but was cleared by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
“There is not a result that would be appropriate for us to share with you,” he said.