U.S. Senate confirms former lobbyist Esper as secretary of defense

WASHINGTON, July 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to be secretary of defense, ending the longest period by far that the Pentagon has been without a permanent top official.

As voting continued, the Senate overwhelmingly backed Esper, a former lobbyist for weapons maker Raytheon Co., to be President Donald Trump's second confirmed leader of the Pentagon.

Esper, 55, received strong bipartisan support despite some sharp questioning during his confirmation hearing by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren about his ties to Raytheon and his refusal to extend an ethics commitment he signed in 2017 to avoid decisions involving the company.

Warren, a 2020 presidential hopeful, was the only member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to voice opposition to Esper's confirmation during the hearing.

Raytheon is the third-largest U.S. defense contractor.

There has been no confirmed defense secretary since Jim Mattis resigned in December over policy differences with Trump. Many members of Congress from both parties have urged the Republican president to act urgently to fill the powerful position.

Related: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

23 PHOTOS
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (replacing CHuck Hagel)
See Gallery
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (replacing CHuck Hagel)
Ash Carter confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense in 93 to 5 vote in the Senate.
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (2nd L) speaks as President Barack Obama (L) and Vice President Joseph Biden (R) listen during a press conference announcing Hagel's resignation in the State Dining Room of the White House November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sources say Hagel plans to remain in office until his successor is confirmed by the Senate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, stands for a photo with Thorshaug, the state secretary of the Norweigan Ministry
Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, meets with Thorshaug, foreground right, the state secretary of the Norweigan Minis
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash B. Carter, right, exchanges greetings with U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Russell A. Sanborn
131202-D-KC128-316
131202-D-KC128-358
131202-D-KC128-123
Purple Heart Ceremony
131202-D-KC128-111
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Korea
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Korea
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Korea
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Korea
Ash Carter 2.0
Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter visits Korea
Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, right, hugs U.S. President Barack Obama, left, during an announcement in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Hagel is stepping down from his post after 21 months in office amid tension with the White House over policy and how it's presented to the public. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, left, listens as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Hagel is stepping down from his post after 21 months in office amid tension with the White House over policy and how it's presented to the public. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama, left, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Hagel is stepping down from his post after 21 months in office amid tension with the White House over policy and how it's presented to the public. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and U.S. Vice President Joseph 'Joe' Biden, right, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Hagel is stepping down from his post after 21 months in office amid tension with the White House over policy and how it's presented to the public. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and U.S. Vice President Joseph 'Joe' Biden, right, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Hagel is stepping down from his post after 21 months in office amid tension with the White House over policy and how it's presented to the public. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) speaks as President Barack Obama (L) listens during a press conference announcing Hagel's resignation in the State Dining Room of the White House November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sources say Hagel plans to remain in office until his successor is confirmed by the Senate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House with Chuck Hagel, U.S. secretary of defense, left, and U.S. Vice President Joseph 'JoE' Biden in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Hagel is stepping down from his post after 21 months in office amid tension with the White House over policy and how it's presented to the public. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on members to support Esper as he opened the Senate on Tuesday morning.

"The nominee is beyond qualified. His record of public service is beyond impressive. His commitment to serving our service members if beyond obvious. And the need for a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense is beyond urgent," McConnell said.

An Army veteran, Esper had served as a congressional aide and a Pentagon official under Republican President George W. Bush, before working for Raytheon. He has been Army secretary since November 2017.

Trump's previous pick to be secretary of defense, Patrick Shanahan, withdrew from consideration on June 18 after reports emerged of domestic violence in his family.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Read Full Story