Esper nominated as Spencer temporarily takes DOD helm

By Tony Bertuca  
July 15, 2019 at 3:30 PM

President Trump today formally nominated acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper to become the next Pentagon chief, triggering an internal succession process that sends Esper back to his initial administration role of Army secretary and elevates Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to be acting defense chief.

Spencer is the Pentagon's third acting defense secretary since former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Jan. 1.

Esper became acting defense secretary last month when former acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan resigned amid reports of past incidents involving the violent actions of his son and ex-wife.

Shanahan was the longest-serving acting defense chief in history and the Pentagon has never had more than one in a single year.

Spencer's time running the Pentagon is expected to be brief. The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a Tuesday nomination hearing for Esper, who staffers say could be confirmed by the full Senate as early as this week.

The committee's Senate GOP and Democratic leaders have pledged to expedite Esper’s nomination.

His past work as a Raytheon executive is expected to be discussed during his nomination hearing as committee member and presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has raised concerns about it.

Esper was confirmed as Army secretary in November 2017 with a vote of 89-6. Warren was among those who opposed his nomination.

Chief Pentagon spokesman Johnathan Hoffman released a statement laying out additional details of the ongoing succession and transition processes.

"The senior team supporting the Office of the Secretary remains in place to ensure institutional continuity," he said. "Notably, this includes David Norquist, the under secretary of defense (comptroller)/chief financial officer, who continues to perform the duties of the deputy secretary of defense; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford; and Eric Chewning, the chief of staff for the Department of Defense. Additionally, Thomas Modly, under secretary of the Navy, is now performing the duties of the secretary of the Navy. Ryan McCarthy is no longer performing the duties of the secretary of the Army and is solely serving as under secretary of the Army."

The White House, meanwhile, has said Trump plans to nominate Norquist to serve as deputy defense secretary and McCarthy to be Army secretary. Pentagon officials say the nominations are expected after Esper's confirmation.