The Pentagon's path to getting Mark Esper confirmed as defense secretary is a Kafkaesque nightmare

news
Photo: Lisa Ferdinando/DoD

The Pentagon plans to tie itself into a pretzel as the Senate considers Mark Esper's nomination to become the next defense secretary.

Esper has been serving as acting defense secretary since June 24. As soon as the White House sends his nomination to the Senate, Esper will revert back to Army secretary and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will become the new acting defense secretary, said Eric Chewning, the acting defense secretary's chief of staff.

"We will not presume confirmation – let me be very clear about that," Chewning told reporters on Tuesday. "It is the prerogative of the Senate to take as long as they think is necessary to examine and confirm a nominee. So we have prepared Secretary Spencer to remain in the role until we have a confirmed secretary of defense."


Navy Undersecretary Thomas Modly will step in to perform the duties of the Navy secretary, Chewning said. Ryan McCarthy, who has been performing the duties of Army secretary, will temporarily go back to his old job as Army undersecretary.

It is unclear when the Senate will actually get Esper's nomination. Chewing said the White House decides when the nomination will go to the Senate adding he expects that to happen "shortly," but he does not expect the nomination to arrive on Tuesday.

The reason for this do-si-do is the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which prevents Esper from serving as acting defense secretary while his nomination is under consideration.

The arcane law did not apply to Patrick Shanahan, who served as acting defense secretary from Jan. 1 until he withdrew from consideration in June after media reports indicated he and his son and been involved with violent altercations with his former wife.

When Shanahan dropped out, the Federal Vacancies Act kicked in for Esper. Further complicating matters: The act only allows officials to serve in an acting capacity for 210 days. That timeline started on Jan. 1, so it runs out at the end of July.

However, the 210-day deadline does not apply while the Senate is considering Esper's nomination, Chewning said.

"Effectively, the clock will go on pause while Secretary Esper is being reviewed by the Senate and Secretary Spencer is in the role of acting," Chewning said. "So he can stay in that status for as long as necessary for the Senate to examine Secretary Esper."

The quickest the Senate has confirmed a defense secretary in the middle of a president's term is less than a week, Chewning said.

Chewning declined to say what the Pentagon might do if there is a problem with Esper's confirmation and the 210-day timeline runs out.

"If we find ourselves in that scenario, we will come back here and talk to you about what plans we're going to put in place to address that issue," Chewning said.

But wait, it gets even more complicated.

If Esper becomes defense secretary, David Norquist will have to go through the same process to be confirmed as deputy defense secretary, Chewning said. Norquist has until the end of January to be confirmed.

"There's more flexibility in terms of who we put in to serve as the potential deputy role," Chewning said. "You could have Secretary Spencer move from his role as acting SECDEF to then become the acting deputy secretary of defense.

"You could go in the next line of succession. It would jump, because we don't have a confirmed secretary of the Air Force, to the first [Office of the Secretary of Defense] person, which would be Ellen Lord. Or, we could just pick someone outside the order of succession."

SEE ALSO: Warfighting with the backup squad: 20 of the Pentagon's top officials are in temp or acting roles

WATCH NEXT: Top Five Mattis Quotes

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will return three captured naval ships to Ukraine on Monday and is moving them to a handover location agreed with Kiev, Crimea's border guard service was cited as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday.

A Reuters reporter in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in 2014, earlier on Sunday saw coastguard boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially be handed over to Ukraine.

Read More Show Less

There's a joke that Joey Jones likes to use when he feels the need to ease the tension in a room or in his own head.

To calm himself down, he uses it to remind himself of the obstacles he's had to overcome. When he faces challenges today — big or small — it brings him back to a time when the stakes were higher.

Jones will feel out a room before using the line. For nearly a decade, Jones, 33, has told his story to thousands of people, given motivational speeches to NFL teams and acted alongside a three-time Academy Award-winning actor.

On Tuesday afternoon, he stood at the front of a classroom at his alma mater, Southeast Whitfield High School in Georgia. The room was crowded with about 30 honor students.

It took about 20 minutes, but Jones started to get more comfortable as the room warmed up to him. A student asked about how he deals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I believe in post-traumatic growth," Jones said. "That means you go through tough and difficult situations and on the back end through recovery, you learn strength."

Read More Show Less

It didn't take long for a central theme to emerge at the funeral of U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Livermore, an event attended by hundreds of area residents Friday at Union Cemetery in Bakersfield.

It's a theme that stems from a widespread local belief that the men and women who have served in the nation's armed forces are held in particularly high esteem here in the southern valley.

"In Bakersfield and Kern County, we celebrate our veterans like no place else on Earth," Bakersfield Chief of Police Lyle Martin told the gathering of mourners.

Read More Show Less

An Air Force Special Tactics combat controller that "delivered thousands of pounds of munition" during a close-range 2007 firefight in Afghanistan was awarded the Silver Star on Friday.

Read More Show Less