WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed a slate of eight Pentagon nominees in pre-holiday work Thursday, filling a backlog of vacant civilian leadership positions for the military.
All of the new appointees had completed confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee in recent weeks, raising few concerns from members. The move came one day after the Senate confirmed Mark Esper as the new Army secretary, bringing their defense confirmation total for the week to nine.
That’s more than half the total of 17 defense nominations previous approved by the Senate this year, a figure that has been a source of frustration for the White House and outside military advocates.
Some of that delay has been tied to Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump’s policies, but the armed services committee’s own stalling of the White House defense picks has also slowed the process.
In recent months, committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has repeatedly complained about a lack of communication between the Pentagon and Congress on a host of military operations and strategy issues, and made it clear publicly that he would penalize defense nominees to force fixes.
On Tuesday, he indicated he may put a hold on nominees if Army officials didn’t brief lawmakers on issues with recruitment waivers. Service leaders responded by meeting with him later that day. On Thursday, McCain threatened to block the nomination of John Rood, in line to become the next under secretary of defense for policy, over his defense industry ties.
Thursday’s slate of confirmations included two high ranking Navy officials — Thomas Modly as the service’s new under secretary and James Geurts as the service’s new assistant secretary — and Shon Manasco as assistant secretary of the Air Force.
Joseph Kernan was confirmed as the new under secretary of defense for intelligence. Guy Roberts and Robert McMahon were both OK’d as assistant secretaries of defense.
Robert Behler was confirmed as the next director of operational test and evaluation for the Defense Department. Robert Wilkie was confirmed as under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Senators also confirmed four State Department nominees in their confirmation blitz. All of the Defense and State department nominations were passed unanimously by voice vote.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.