President Trump's latest pick to be Army secretary, Mark Esper, has been making the rounds and meeting with key senators on Capitol Hill in recent days. But more than two months after the White House announced its intention to nominate him for the job, Esper's confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Armed Services chairman, said his committee will hold a confirmation hearing "pretty soon" for Esper, a Raytheon lobbyist and former Army lieutenant colonel. But the senator first wants to hear more about the administration's war plans.
"I have requested information concerning what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, which we have not been briefed on, so we have no other choice," McCain told the Washington Examiner. "I want to make sure that I see it."
McCain is set to get his Afghanistan briefing next week, potentially clearing the way for Esper's hearing. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are set to testify Tuesday at McCain's committee on the political and security situation in Afghanistan.
Several Armed Services members also confirmed they have already met with Esper, a strong sign that a hearing date is nearing. The committee must report the nomination to the full Senate before a final confirmation vote can be held.
"This nominee for Army secretary is the real deal — he's got Army experience, he's got business experience, he's got a Ph.D.," said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., a top Trump ally on the Armed Services Committee. "But I just found him to be very engaged, very knowledgeable and he's got the real passion that we need in that job."
The Army, like the other service branches, is struggling after years of budget uncertainty and high operations and a new secretary will be coming in as the Trump administration and Congress try to increase defense spending and weigh a larger Army.
Esper was an infantry officer and deployed with the Army to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He also worked in the Pentagon and Capitol Hill before serving as the top lobbyist for one of the top five defense contractors.
If he gets a confirmation hearing, Esper's work at Raytheon might draw some criticism. McCain has railed against the number of Trump nominees with backgrounds in the defense industry and he told the Washington Examiner it remains a concern, though not a top concern, with Esper.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a committee member and Army veteran, said he supports the nomination after meeting with Esper and was not concerned about his Raytheon work.
"His background first and foremost is soldier and I think it is good that we have a secretary who knows what it is like to be a soldier on the front lines," Cotton said. "I think Mark will be a good secretary once he is confirmed."
Esper is a Washington insider and more low-key than the previous two Army secretary nominees. Vincent Viola, a billionaire businessman and owner of a professional hockey team, dropped out in February due to concerns over untangling his financial ties. Mark Green, an outspoken Tennessee state senator, withdrew after public outcry over his past statements about gay marriage, transgender rights, and Islam.
Some committee members said it was becoming urgent that the Army's top civilian post be filled soon. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said he was scheduled to meet with Esper and was eager to get a Trump appointee in the position.
"We need somebody quickly and unfortunately with the nominees that we've had who have had to withdraw … it's pushed the process back," Tillis said. "But we need these permanent positions in place because there is only so much that acting secretaries can do."