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US Senate confirms Mark Esper as secretary of defense

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of Defense nominee, Mark Esper, listens to opening statements during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 16, 2019. (Getty Images)

The US Senate has confirmed Army Secretary Mark Esper to be secretary of defense, ending the longest period by far that the US Defense Department has been without a permanent top official.

The upper chamber of Congress confirmed Esper on Tuesday as the leader of the Pentagon with a 90-8 vote.

Esper, 55, is a former soldier and lobbyist for weapons maker Raytheon, the third-largest US arms contractor. He has been Army secretary since November 2017.

He 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 candidate, was the only member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to oppose Esper’s confirmation during the hearing. Four of the eight “No” votes came from senators who are running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination - Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar.

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 had urged President Donald Trump to act urgently to fill the powerful position.

An Army veteran, Esper had served as a congressional aide and a Pentagon official under Republican President George W. Bush before working for Raytheon.

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.

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