Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Tuesday morning. Aside from a verbal skirmish with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the process seemed to go smoothly. Several rules were waived to get to this point so quickly. Rick Berger, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says that’s because everyone is upset the process took this long.
“I think it’s a reflection of the fact that we’ve spent so long without a Defense Secretary. People on both sides of the aisle in both chambers… are frustrated that we don’t have anyone at the top,” Berger said. “Until we have someone at the top position, we can’t have someone in the deputy position, the CMO, all the way down the line. They mentioned 14 spots they want to fill quickly. I think it’s frustration that the Shanahan confirmation process played out the way it did.”
Loren Dejonge Schulman, deputy director of studies at CNAS, says that while the odds are that Esper will be confirmed soon, that alone doesn’t solve the vacancy issue at the Department of Defense.
“It’s not just those 14 slots, there are lower level political appointee positions that don’t have to be confirmed by the Senate that are also empty. There’s a real leadership crisis. The fact that the White House is not feeling this acutely, that they don’t have the leaders in place to actually implement their priorities and connect them with the people who are going to oversee and evaluate them. It makes me question whether there’s a White House policy process going on that would really miss them altogether,” Schulman said.