James Mattis' original plan was to serve as Donald Trump's Defense secretary through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor, choose a nominee, and create the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.
It took seven months, but President Donald Trump finally has a Senate-confirmed secretary of defense.Mark Esper, an Army veteran and former defense industry lobbyist, won Senate confirmation Tuesday by a vote of 90-8. He was to be officially sworn in by the end of the day, ending the longest period the Pentagon has gone without a confirmed leader in its history.
The final Senate roll call on Esper's nomination is here. Of the eight "no" votes, all were from Democrats, five of whom are running for president. (Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado was the only Democratic presidential hopeful to support the nominee.)
It's undoubtedly a good thing that the Defense department finally has a confirmed cabinet secretary, though there is one part of Esper's background that often goes overlooked:
The new Pentagon chief is a former lobbyist for a major defense contractor. In fact, Esper was a lobbyist for Raytheon as recently as 2017, and by some accounts, he'll have to recuse himself from Trump administration negotiations with Turkey that would affect his former employer.
For 90 senators, that obviously wasn't a deal-breaker, but let's not forget that it was just a couple of months ago when the president traveled to Orlando to officially launch his re-election campaign, and boasted to supports, "We stared down the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests, who made a living bleeding our country dry. That's what we've done."
No, actually, it's not what Trump and his team have done. In fact, at the next cabinet meeting, Esper won't be the only former lobbyist at the table: he'll be joined by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt who lobbied for the energy industry, and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who also lobbied for the energy industry.
And that's just at the cabinet level. As we discussed a month ago, much of the White House and federal agencies have been populated with former lobbyists.
This isn’t exactly what voters were told to expect when Candidate Trump was seeking the presidency. On the contrary, the Republican spent months telling voters how tired he was of everyone in D.C. “being controlled by the special interests and the lobbyists.” At one point, he went so far as to say he’d have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration altogether.
In 2016, Trump even unveiled a fairly specific blueprint for “ending government corruption,” which included a series of provisions pertaining to limiting the influence of lobbyists.
Voters who took the rhetoric seriously probably didn’t expect to see quite so many former lobbyists overseeing the same federal agencies they used to try to influence.