WASHINGTON - The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Mark T. Esper as defense secretary, ending a months-long vacancy created when Jim Mattis resigned last year over policy disagreements with President Donald Trump.
The 90-to-8 vote reflected broad bipartisan support for Esper - who has spent most of his career in the military and in government - at a time when the country is confronting disparate national security threats and contemplating military engagement with Iran.
Many also see Esper's confirmation as an important step toward restoring authority at a Pentagon that is increasingly at odds with Trump's inner circle of White House advisers.
Esper, 55, who has been serving as Army secretary since late 2017, previously worked on Capitol Hill as a senior Republican staffer, in top positions at the Pentagon and at the conservative Heritage Foundation. He also served for over a decade in the Army, when he participated in the Gulf War.
The only significant challenge to his bid to become Pentagon chief arose from his stint as a lobbyist for Raytheon, a major defense contractor, and his resistance to extending a two-year commitment he made as Army secretary to recuse himself from decisions involving the company.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential hopeful, grilled Esper about his decision during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, arguing that if he would not commit to better distance himself from Raytheon, "you should not be confirmed as secretary of defense."
Esper and many Republicans charged that Warren was unfairly pillorying him as potentially corrupt solely because of his corporate credentials.
Of the eight Democrats who voted against Esper's nomination, five are running to replace Trump as president in 2020: Warren, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of Calfornia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. A sixth presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., missed the vote.
Democratic Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both of Oregon, also voted against Esper's nomination.
It has been just over one month since Trump nominated Esper to lead the Pentagon, and less than one week since he made his case for the job to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The speed of his confirmation stands in stark contrast to the months that Patrick Shanahan's bid for the job languished in limbo, until it ended last month amid revelations of turmoil in his family.
After the vote, Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., called Esper "the strong leader our military needs."
"After serving our country in uniform, Esper spent his civilian career ensuring that the men and women who serve in our armed forces have every tool necessary to do their job and do it well," McSally, the nation's first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, said in a statement. "I am confident he will serve our country with the integrity and dedication the role demands and look forward to hosting him in Arizona soon."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concern about "the lack of stable leadership at the Department of Defense and the message it sends to our adversaries," Shaheen said in a statement.
This article was written by Karoun Demirjian, a reporter for The Washington Post.