During a hearing, Sen. John McCain said he's long had reservations about defense contractors filling out the Pentagon's upper ranks and potentially undercutting rigorous oversight of the defense industry. McCain, however, signaled his support for the nomination of Raytheon Vice President Mark Esper, who was selected by President Donald Trump in July to be Army secretary.
He told Esper during the confirmation hearing his concerns "grew out of early consultations I had with the administration about potential nominations, including yours and a handful of others that were yet to be nominated." McCain said "it was then that I decided I couldn't support further nominees with that background, beyond those we had already discussed."
The Arizona lawmaker did not elaborate on who the last nominee with heavy defense industry ties would be. Esper has been Raytheon's top lobbyist since 2010. He agreed, if confirmed, to recuse himself for two years from matters related to the Raytheon Company that may come before him.
Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed and General Dynamics are among the Pentagon's largest contractors. The Senate in recent months has confirmed former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan to be deputy defense secretary and Ellen Lord, the former chief executive officer of Textron Systems, to be undersecretary of defense for acquisition. Heather Wilson, who represented New Mexico in the House before becoming a defense industry consultant, was approved in May as Trump's Air Force secretary.
Although Esper was nominated in July, his confirmation was delayed over a clash between McCain and the Pentagon that had nothing to do with his qualifications. McCain said the Trump administration wasn't keeping his committee in the loop on key military matters, such as the details underpinning Trump's new strategy for Afghanistan and the deadly ambush in the African nation of Niger.
Until the information started to flow, McCain blocked most Defense Department nominations from proceeding. He eased the grip last week after two senior Pentagon officials gave the committee a classified briefing on the Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers. Members earlier this week received another closed-door update from Navy leaders on their investigation of two deadly ship collisions in the Pacific.
Esper is Trump's third choice for Army secretary, a post the president has struggled to fill. Trump's first pick for the Army's top civilian job, Vincent Viola, dropped out in early February because of financial entanglements. Mark Green, Trump's second choice for Army secretary, stepped aside in May amid criticism over his remarks about Muslims and LGBT Americans.
Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner