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Trump names new acting SecDef and sends Mark Esper’s nomination to Senate

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during a swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer at the Pentagon, Sept. 7, 2017. Spencer was confirmed as the 76th Secretary of the Navy by the Senate on Aug. 1, 2017. (Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith/Department of Defense)
July 15, 2019

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is now serving as the acting Secretary of Defense while President Trump’s official nomination, Army Secretary Mark Esper, has been sent to the Senate.

Spencer took over as acting Secretary of Defense on Monday afternoon, which is when President Trump sent Esper’s nomination to the Senate.

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The Senate is expected to hold a hearing Tuesday morning, according to early reports. In order to be considered as the nominee, Esper must step down from his temporary post as acting defense secretary. It is being reported that Esper could be confirmed as soon as Thursday, and then Spencer could return to his post at the Navy once Esper is sworn in.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman issued a statement on Monday evening, saying:

“At 3:04 p.m. today, the Senate received the president’s formal nomination of Dr. Mark T. Esper to be secretary of defense. At that time, Esper ceased to serve as acting secretary of defense and is solely serving as secretary of the Army. As a result, as prescribed in Executive Order 13533, “Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Defense,” March 1, 2010, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer became acting secretary of defense. As such, Secretary Spencer has the full authority and responsibility of the secretary of defense. The senior team supporting the Office of the Secretary remains in place to ensure institutional continuity. Notably, this includes David Norquist, the under secretary of defense (comptroller)/chief financial officer, who continues to perform the duties of the deputy secretary of defense; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr.; and Eric Chewning, the chief of staff to the secretary of defense. Additionally, Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly is now performing the duties of the secretary of the Navy. Ryan McCarthy is no longer performing the duties of the secretary of the Army and is solely serving as under secretary of the Army.

Spencer is the third acting Secretary of Defense this year alone, following the resignation of former Secretary Jim Mattis. He has been the Navy Secretary for nearly two years, since August 2017.

In June, then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrew his nomination following an FBI probe that was delaying his confirmation process.

The probe was reportedly centered on a 2010 domestic violence incident involving Shanahan and his wife at the time, Kimberley, in which both claimed the other had punched them. Shanahan maintains he “never laid a hand on” his former wife, although she maintains her claims.

Mattis submitted a letter of resignation to Trump late last year, in 2018. Trump confirmed the news in a tweet on Dec. 20, 2018, confirming that Mattis was “retiring, with distinction.”

Mattis’ letter, which cited differences of opinion with Trump, stated that he vowed to remain in the role until Feb. 28, 2019, to “allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated.”

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However, within days, Trump announced that then-Deputy Defense Secretary Shanahan would take over as acting defense secretary as of Jan. 1, pushing Mattis out nearly two months ahead of his intended departure date.

Trump was reportedly angered by Mattis’ resignation letter and the media coverage of it in the following days, which led to the escalation of Mattis’ replacement.