Top Pentagon nominations get ignition, with liftoff possible next week

Top Pentagon nominations get ignition, with liftoff possible next week

Gen. Mark Milley, left, and Secretary Mark Esper at t he 2019 Army Birthday Ball on June 15, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dana Clarke)

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nominations of the top two Pentagon positions, sending the names to the full Senate for what should be final action.

Approved Thursday in a closed-door meeting were Mark Esper, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be defense secretary, and Gen, Mark Milley, nominated to be chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Senate has left for the week, so the earliest the nominations can come to the full body for a vote is Tuesday.

“I’m very pleased with Milley and Esper, and we need to get more,” SASC Chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla), chair of the Senate committee, told reporters after the closed door meeting.

There are at lest 18 individuals serving in “acting” capacity in top Pentagon posts.

“ I think we’ve made some headway today in getting it done,” Inhofe said. “We did it the right way.”

Inhofe said the committee plans a confirmation hearing on Tuesday for Defense Department Comptroller David Norquist to become deputy defense secretary. Norquist has been performing those duties since January, one of those 18 key positions without a confirmed individual.

The secretary of defense position has not had a confirmed person since James Mattis resigned on Dec. 31, 2018. Milley will replace Gen. Joseph Dunford, whose term as chair of the Joint Chiefs ends shortly.

Esper’s nomination is opposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential hopeful. She opposed him after he declined to agree to recuse himself from all matters related to Raytheon,  the Massachusetts-based defense firm where he was the top lobbyist for six years.

Otherwise Esper appears to have sufficient support to be confirmed. No major objections have been voiced regarding Milley.

The committee hearing was a closed session to permit members to discuss allegations of sexual misconduct raised against Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command. He has been nominated to be vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Inhofe did not comment on Hyten’s fate; that nomination remains active.

Also Thursday, Trump nominated Vice Adm. Michael Gilday to be the top military leader in the Navy, known as Chief of Naval Operations. Gilday, a native of Lowell, Mass., is now director of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and will be promoted to full admiral if confirmed.

Gilday is the replacement nominee for Adm. William Moran, who was previously confirmed for the post but then opted to resign amid reports of poor judgment in personnel matters.

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