A once laggard Senate starts moving on Pentagon nominations

A once laggard Senate starts moving on Pentagon nominations

Gen. Mark Milley was confirmed by the Senate Thursday to become the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is shown at the Army Birthday Cake Cutting Ceremony in the Pentagon Courtyard on June 13, (U.S. Army photo)

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and put in motion the approval of a deputy defense secretary in its effort to bolster the top Pentagon echelon before lawmakers recess for summer.

In a 89-1 vote Thursday, the Senate confirmed Gen. Mark Milley to be the chair of the Joint Chiefs. He will succeed Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is to retire in September. The lone senator who voted against the nomination was Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Ten senators — including six presidential candidates — did not vote.

Later in the day, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nomination of David Norquist to be deputy defense secretary. Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller, has been performing those duties since Jan. 1 until his formal nomination.

The full Senate is expected to act on that nomination next week, its last week before recess. The House concluded its summer work this week.

President Donald Trump reviews troops with Mark Esper, the new defense secretary, at a Full Honors Ceremony for Esper on Thursday at the Pentagon. Vice President Mike Pence also attended. (Shealah Craighead/White House)

Those actions occurred as the Defense Secretary Mark Esper was greeted by a full parade welcome at the Pentagon on Thursday, a ceremony attended by President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence.

Esper, formerly Secretary of the Army, was confirmed as the 27th defense secretary on Tuesday by a 90 to 8 vote. He was sworn into office Tuesday night.

Pentagon officials said they hope to get Ryan McCormick, who became the acting Army secretary upon Esper’s elevation, a hearing and possible vote before the Senate departs.

There are about 18 top positions open in the Pentagon, among the almost 60 needing Senate conformation now open or held by persons in “acting” positions. One more vacancy occurred last week with the resignation of David Trachtenberg, the Pentagon’s second-ranking civilian policy official.

Some paths may be more bumpy for some nominees.

One of those is Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs who has been accused of sexual misconduct. The Senate Armed Services Committee held closed-door meetings on his nomination this week, hearing separately from Hyten and his accuser.

Committee chair Sen. James Inhofe (R-Ok.) said he plans to hold an open confirmation hearing on Hyten’s nomination on Tuesday.

“Ahead of this hearing, the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have devoted many hours to reviewing General Hyten and his nomination, at four executive sessions held by the committee and on their own time,” Inhofe said in a statement. “Through a fair, thorough and methodical process, each member was able to ask questions, receive answers, review documents, listen to testimony, conduct analysis and express their opinions.”

Hyten is accused of sexual misconduct by a former aide who said he “subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017,” according to the AP. She also told AP that Hyten “tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.”

Previously, the Pentagon had said in a statement that “a comprehensive investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations” did not find sufficient evidence to support the accusation.

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