Donald Trump’s choice Mark Esper approved as defense secretary
WASHINGTON – Mark Esper was sworn in as defense secretary Tuesday following an overwhelming Senate confirmation, ending a seven-month period of uncertainty at the top of the Pentagon.
Esper, who had been army secretary and acting defense secretary, was President Donald Trump’s second choice after former acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s bid for the spot unraveled following reports about his turbulent divorce in USA TODAY and other news outlets.
Esper, 55, won 90 votes in the Senate; eight Democrats opposed his nomination.
“He’s going to be a great one”, Trump said during a swearing in ceremony in the Oval Office.
Esper is a graduate of West Point and a combat veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He served as a congressional aide, senior official at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a top lobbyist for Raytheon, a major defense contractor.
He is likely to be sworn in Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.
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Jim Mattis was the last Senate-confirmed defense secretary. He resigned in December, citing differences with Trump over the deployment of U.S. troops to Syria and Afghanistan.
Esper will take over the Pentagon as it fights the nation’s longest-running war in Afghanistan, where 14,000 troops hunt terrorists and help the government combat Taliban insurgents.
The military is also engaged in a tense standoff in the Persian Gulf with Iran.
During his confirmation hearing last week, Esper said his top priorities will be modernizing the Pentagon while balancing the “growing threats” posed by “great power competitors” China and Russia and regional threats such as Iran and North Korea – “all the while maintaining pressure on terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida.”
He said his strategy includes upgrading weapons systems, strengthening alliances and improving performance and accountability at the Pentagon.
“No reform is too small,” Esper said. “The bottom line is this: In an era of mounting fiscal challenges and competing demands, we must actively seek ways to free up time, money and manpower to invest back into our top priorities.”
Esper holds a master’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from George Washington University, and he spent more than 20 years in the Army, including 10 on active duty, before becoming a lobbyist, most recently for Raytheon.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hailed Esper as “beyond qualified.”
“His record of public service is beyond impressive. His commitment to serving our service members is beyond obvious. And the need for a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense is beyond urgent,” he said.
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