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Trump makes 3rd attempt to fill Army secretary post, 1 of many key Pentagon jobs still vacant

The Pentagon

STARS AND STRIPES

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 20, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will nominate Army veteran and Raytheon executive Mark Esper to become the Army’s top civilian, the White House said Wednesday as it works to fill three dozen key Pentagon posts still vacant six months into the new administration.

The announcement came one day after Trump’s pick to serve as the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian was confirmed by the Senate. Former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan was easily confirmed as deputy defense secretary with a 92-7 vote, filling an important job that had been occupied by Robert Work, a holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration and whose last day was July 14. Shanahan was officially sworn into his new role Wednesday morning at the Pentagon, said Navy Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Shanahan is only the seventh person confirmed to fill one of 53 top White House appointed jobs at the Pentagon.

That is a rate that lags behind the last two administrations, according to analysis from the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. According to the group’s data, former President George W. Bush’s administration had filled 23 positions at this point and the Obama administration had filled 21.

The White House has placed blame squarely on Senate Democrats, who in many cases have slowed the process to approve nominees by forcing formal “cloture” votes, including for Shanahan, which delay confirmation votes for several days. Under cloture procedures, the Senate majority leader must request a cloture vote, wait a day for that vote and, if it succeeds, wait another 30 hours for debate before a final vote can be administered.

The Trump administration has called the Democrat-forced slow down “unprecedented obstruction” and accused them of “resisting the American people.”

“Senate Democrats have decided to obstruct President Donald Trump’s administration, and the American people, by refusing to confirm qualified nominations,” The White House said in a statement.

Despite the Democrats’ use of cloture procedures – a process often used by Republican senators during Obama’s presidency – to avoid fast-tracking Trump nominees, the Trump administration has been slow to fill vacant jobs, according to the Partnership for Public Service analysis. At the Pentagon, the White House has yet to formally nominate someone to fill 22 of those 53 top positions.

‘‘If the White House is looking for the cause of the delay, they need only look in the mirror,’’ Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week. ‘‘No administration in recent memory has been slower in sending nominees to the Senate.’’

At the Pentagon, the vacant jobs include some of the most high profile civilian positions. Only one of the three service secretary positions is filled. While Heather Wilson was sworn in as the top Air Force civilian in May, the White House has struggled to find the appropriate fits for Navy and Army Secretary.

It appears Trump has found his man to lead the Navy and Marine Corps. Richard V. Spencer, a Marine aviation veteran and businessman, has been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee and is awaiting a confirmation vote from the full Senate. He was Trump’s second nominee for the position. His original choice, former Army reservist and financier Philip Bilden withdrew from consideration in February over financial concerns.

Two potential Army secretary nominees also withdrew from consideration before Trump settled on Esper.

In February, Vincent Viola, an Army veteran and billionaire businessman, announced he would no longer seek the Army’s top job because, like Bilden, he was unable to divest properly from his business interests.

Trump’s second pick for Army secretary, Dr. Mark Green, an Army veteran, medical doctor and state senator from Tennessee, decided to withdraw from consideration in May after an uproar over comments he had made about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and Muslims.

Esper must be approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee and confirmed by the full Senate, a process that could span several months.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon last week that he and the White House are working to vet and nominate candidates for many of the vacant jobs.

“We’ve done our due diligence,” he said.

Shanahan, who will have a more formal, public swearing-in ceremony in August, takes over a job that is responsible for much of the day-to-day business and internal management of the government’s largest organization. He will inherit about a dozen policy reviews, including Pentagon business practices, the nation’s ballistic missile defense shield and its nuclear posture.

Shanahan spent more than three decades at Boeing where he was most recently senior vice president for supply and operations. He had previously worked as the company’s was senior vice president of the 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft programs and oversaw its missile defense systems.

He was confirmed largely along partisan lines. Six Democrats and one Independent senator rejected him. They were Sens. Corey Booker, D-N.J.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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