Overnight Defense: Esper sworn in as Pentagon chief | Confirmed in 90-8 vote | Takes helm as Trump juggles foreign policy challenges | Senators meet with woman accusing defense nominee of sexual assault

THE TOPLINE: Mark Esper was sworn in as Defense secretary on Tuesday evening, officially ending the Pentagon’s longest-ever period without a Senate-confirmed leader.

The swearing-in, conducted by Supreme Court Justice Samuel AlitoSamuel AlitoTrump pays respects to late Justice Stevens at Supreme Court Liberal, conservative Supreme Court justices unite in praising Stevens Supreme Court rules against Trump on census citizenship question MORE in the Oval OfficE. The swearing-in, conducted by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in the Oval Office, came hours after the Senate confirmed Esper in a 90-8 vote.

Praise from Trump: “That’s a vote that we’re not accustomed to,” President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE said during the ceremony.

“I am confident that he will be an outstanding secretary of defense,” Trump added. “I have absolutely no doubt about it. He is outstanding in every way. We’re honored to have you aboard.”

 

The timing: The Senate’s vote to confirm Esper to be Trump’s next Pentagon chief, capped off a rollercoaster six months since former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike The Hill’s Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill MORE‘s resignation. The confirmation of Esper as the 27th official head of the Pentagon makes him the first Senate-approved Defense secretary since late December.

Big challenges: The vote comes as the Trump administration juggles multiple foreign policy challenges, including growing tensions with Iran, talk of new sanctions against Turkey and lingering congressional pushback over the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGrassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices The Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana MORE (R-Ky.) praised Esper ahead of the vote, noting that a second Senate-confirmed Defense secretary is “beyond urgent.”

“The nominee is beyond qualified. His record of public service is beyond impressive. His commitment to serving our service members is beyond obvious and the need for a Senate-confirmed secretary of Defense is beyond urgent,” he added.

Months of waiting: The vote marks the end of a months-long effort to find a replacement for Mattis, who resigned amid deep military and foreign policy strategy disagreements with Trump.

Trump had been expected to nominate then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike This week: Mueller dominates chaotic week on Capitol Hill Overnight Defense: US shoots down Iranian drone | Pentagon sending 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia | Trump mulls Turkey sanctions | Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract MORE, who ultimately withdrew himself from consideration amid multiple reports describing past domestic violence incidents involving his family.

Instead, Trump quickly put forward Esper; senators have ushered him through his confirmation process at a breakneck speed.

The vote: The Senate voted 90-8, with the eight opposing votes all Democrats — Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker takes swipe at Biden criminal justice reform plan Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDemocrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission Harris, Nadler introduce bill to decriminalize marijuana Gillibrand says she doesn’t regret calling for Franken to resign MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission Biden announces plan to counteract mass incarceration MORE (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids’ internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator FTC looks to update children’s internet privacy rules MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyAl Franken says he ‘absolutely’ regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Biden leads 2020 Democratic field by 15 points, followed by Sanders and Warren Warren introduces bill to cancel student loan debt for millions Democrats, advocacy groups urge Pompeo to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission MORE (Mass.), and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenBarr warns encryption allows ‘criminals to operate with impunity’ Grassley, Wyden reach deal to lower drug prices Tech critics on both sides have it wrong: Section 230 is not a special privilege MORE (Ore.). Five of them, Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, and Warren, are running for the 2020 presidential Democratic nomination.

The Senate Armed Services Committee had approved his nomination by a voice vote on Thursday, waiving the panel’s rule that there has to be seven days between a confirmation hearing and the committee vote.

Background: Esper’s ascension comes amid a shakeup of top military and Pentagon officials. The Pentagon announced last week that its Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy David Trachtenberg, its No. 2 policy official, is retiring.

A number of leadership positions don’t have permanent Senate-confirmed appointments including the deputy Defense secretary, Army secretary and Air Force secretary.

Esper was confirmed as Army secretary by the Senate 89-6 in the fall of 2017. A former infantry officer, Esper previously served as a top executive at the defense contractor Raytheon before joining the Trump administration.

His nomination appeared to be on a glide path after a largely noncontroversial confirmation hearing last week.

 

SENATE PANEL MEETS WITH HYTEN ACCUSER: The woman accusing the nominee to be the No. 2 general in the country of sexual assault testified privately Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, two Democratic senators confirmed.

Sens. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthAl Franken says he ‘absolutely’ regrets resigning Advocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student’s mid-flight allergic reaction Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sit on the committee, said the panel met with Gen. John Hyten’s accuser during its closed-door Tuesday morning business meeting.

“I found her very believable,” Duckworth told reporters. “I do think it becomes a he-said-she-said kind of situation, but I have some questions after listening to her testimony where I’m going to try to follow up and seek some sort of clarification.”

Blumenthal said the committee met with the woman for “several hours,” adding that he will have the woman’s account “very closely looked at” because “the survivor deserves respect and serious consideration.”

Earlier in the day, committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump’s pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase MORE (R-Okla.) declined to comment on the meeting, telling reporters only that “you know what we’re discussing.”

The next step: Senators had previously been briefed by defense officials on the accusations against Hyten, who President Trump has nominated to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Duckworth and Blumenthal said the committee is also scheduled to meet with Hyten himself later this week.

The committee has a business meeting scheduled for Thursday morning to “consider pending military nominations,” according to a notice.

What we know: The female officer told The Associated Press that Hyten subjected her to unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 when she was one of his aides. She further alleged that when she rebuffed him, he tried to derail her military career.

An Air Force investigation cleared Hyten of the allegations, but some senators have questioned how the investigation was carried out.

The accusations have stalled Hyten’s confirmation process as the Armed Services Committee debates about to proceed.

What we don’t know: Duckworth said Tuesday’s meeting with the woman left her with questions about “why Hyten has been treated differently than other high-ranking officers, or any officers for that matter, who have similar accusations against them.”

She added that “there are quite a number of us on the Democratic side” who believe “there are many other officers who could do this job.”

Time crunch: Senators are facing a time crunch in filling the vice chairman role as the current vice chairman, Gen. Paul Selva, is slated to retire at the end of July.

The pending vacancy is one of several that have senators concerned about a leadership vacuum at the Pentagon.

 

GOP SENATORS TALK TURKEY SANCTIONS AT WHITE HOUSE: A group of 45 Republican senators traveled to the White House for a meeting with President Trump on potential Turkish sanctions.

The White House revealed little of the meeting as of Tuesday afternoon, and only released the topic of the gathering and the names of the senators that attended.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Trump’s pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Trump says US will not sell Turkey F-35s after Russian missile defense system purchase MORE did not attend the meeting, but all other Republican lawmakers on the committee were there, including Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonLawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei Five things to know about Iran’s breaches of the nuclear deal Hillicon Valley: Trump gets pushback after reversing course on Huawei | China installing surveillance apps on visitors’ phones | Internet provider Cloudflare suffers outage | Consumer groups look to stop Facebook cryptocurrency MORE (Ark.), Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand FAA nominee advances to full Senate vote Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (Miss), Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerOn The Money: Labor secretary under fire over Epstein plea deal | Trump defends Acosta as Dems call for ouster | Biden releases tax returns showing steep rise in income | Tech giants to testify at House antitrust hearing GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump and House Democrats resume battle MORE (Neb.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Trump angry more Republicans haven’t defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (Iowa), Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (S.D.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanAlarm sounds over census cybersecurity concerns Senate sets new voting record with Iran war measure Overnight Defense: Trump says he doesn’t need exit strategy with Iran | McConnell open to vote on Iran war authorization | Senate panel advances bill to restrict emergency arms sales MORE (Alaska), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric MORE (N.C.), David Perdue (Ga.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill’s Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Trump angry more Republicans haven’t defended his tweets: report Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout MORE (Ariz.), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers MORE (N.D.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTech critics on both sides have it wrong: Section 230 is not a special privilege Hillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to ‘take a look’ at Google’s ties to China | Google denies working with China’s military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Google official denies allegations of ties to China MORE (Mo.), and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley: Intel chief creates new election security position | Privacy groups want role in new tech task force | Republicans urge Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud contract Advocates urge senators to work with consumer groups on privacy law Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids’ internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections MORE (Tenn.).

 

Why it matters: The United States last week officially booted Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program over the NATO ally’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system.

The sale puts into play congressionally mandated sanctions, which fall under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act and are imposed when a U.S. partner buys Russian military equipment.

President Trump said Thursday that he has not yet made a decision on whether to impose the sanctions.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will speak off the record at the Navy League of the United States and the Shipbuilders Council of America at the annual Shipbuilding Caucus breakfast event at 8 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2044.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson will speak on “A Review of the Nuclear Posture Review, National Security Strategy, and Nuclear Deterrence,” at 8:30 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C. 

Retired Adm. Scott Swift, the former commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, and other defense experts will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ ninth annual South China Sea Conference at 9 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold the confirmation hearing of David Norquist to be deputy secretary of defense at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate office Building, room G50. 

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats look to capitalize on turmoil inside NRA Overnight Energy: Senators push back on EPA’s new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Watchdog probing more ethics investigations into EPA’s former air chief: report MORE (D-R.I.) will speak on “Dialogues on American Foreign Policy and World Affairs” at 12 p.m. at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. 

Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Fritz Barth will speak at an Institute of World Politics lecture on “Artificial Intelligence Initiatives: U.S. and Chinese Strategies,” at 4 p.m. in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: Iranian admiral: ‘We observe all enemy ships’ including US

— The Hill: Pakistan PM: Without Trump, conflict in Afghanistan could have continued another 19 years

— The Hill: Afghan president responds to Trump saying he could end war in a week

— The Hill: South Korean jets fire warning shots at Russian military plane

— The Hill: Opinion: NATO’s disappearing navies invite trouble in the Baltic Sea

— The Hill: Opinion: Solidarity between Trump and Khan could herald a new future for U.S.-Pakistan partnership

— The Hill: Opinion: The US must restore diplomacy and leadership for a safer world

— Military Times: Lawmakers, lawsuit want VA to reconsider delays for ‘blue water’ veterans claims

— Reuters: Bulgaria president vetoes $1.26 billion deal for F-16 fighter jets

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