Pentagon & Congress

Trump to nominate Raytheon VP, Gulf War vet as next Army secretary

WASHINGTON — President Trump will nominate Mark Esper as Army secretary later this week, sources confirmed on Wednesday.

The news was first reported by the Washington Examiner. Esper, the current vice president of government relations at Raytheon, would bring a host of experience in the defense industry and in Washington politics to the post if confirmed.

He is a former Army lieutenant colonel who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1986. He served for more than a decade on active duty, including a combat tour in Iraq during the first Gulf War.

Later, Esper served as deputy assistant secretary of defense under former President George W. Bush, and on Capitol Hill as both a House Armed Services Committee staffer and director of national security affairs for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

He was also the national policy director for Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential bid.

Mark Esper is a West Point graduate who deployed during the first Gulf War.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

Esper is the third person tapped by Trump to take over the Army’s top civilian position. Both of Trump’s previous picks were forced to drop out of the confirmation process before Senate hearings began.

In February, Vincent Viola withdrew his name from consideration for the post, citing strict Defense Department rules concerning his family businesses. He is the founder of digital stock trading firm Virtu Financial and owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers.

In May, Trump’s second nominee — Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green — withdrew his name from consideration after what he called "false and misleading attacks" concerning his past comments on gay rights and evolution.

Additionally, Trump’s original Navy secretary pick — venture capitalist Philip Bilden — also withdrew from consideration in February, citing business conflicts. His replacement, businessman Richard Spencer, had a confirmation hearing earlier this month and is expected to get full Senate approval in coming weeks.

The nomination problems have left the armed services without service secretaries for much of Trump’s early administration. Robert Speer has been serving as the acting Army secretary since late January, and Sean Stackley as acting Navy secretary over the same period. Both are holdovers from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was sworn into her leadership post in mid-May.

Congressional leaders have lamented the slow pace of defense nominations for Trump, while administration officials have accused Democrats in the Senate of slow-walking numerous qualified candidates.

A confirmation hearing for Esper likely won’t take place until September at the earliest, given the extended legislative break scheduled for the Senate next month.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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