The Senate on Thursday voted 89-1 to confirm Army Gen. Mark Milley to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just hours after the Armed Services Committee decided to move forward with Air Force Gen. John Hyten’s nomination to be the military’s No. 2 officer despite lingering questions about allegations of sexual assault.
The progress on the Joint Chiefs nominees comes as senators try to firm up leadership at the Pentagon, which has been in a state of transition for months.
Also Thursday, Armed Services members favorably reported to the floor David Norquist’s nomination to be deputy Defense secretary, just two days after the Senate confirmed Mark Esper as Defense secretary.
Chairman James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma emerged from a three-hour closed-door meeting with Hyten on Thursday and said the panel will soon announce a date for Hyten’s confirmation hearing.
“Gen. Hyten thanks chairman Inhofe and the committee members for this opportunity to tell his side of the story,” Cdr. Bill Clinton, Hyten’s spokesman at U.S. Strategic Command, said as the meeting was nearing a conclusion.
Hyten did not answer questions from reporters when he left the meeting.
Armed Services members met separately Tuesday with Hyten’s accuser, who alleges Hyten kissed and touched her on nine occasions between February 2017 and February 2018, and maintains that the four-star general tried to harm her career after she rebuffed his advances.
A Pentagon probe of the allegations cleared Hyten of wrongdoing, but some Democrats on Armed Services weren’t satisfied with the Defense Department’s process and requested additional information from Hyten.
Emerging from the closed briefing, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said she still had questions about how the case was handled.
“Gen. Hyten is answering questions, and I thank him for doing that,” said Duckworth, adding she found both Hyten and the accuser, who is her constituent, believable. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions that maybe neither he nor the accuser can answer, but that has to do with how DOD treated this case.”
Duckworth said she needs to get answers from the Defense Department on why they treated Hyten’s case differently from other officers, but did not elaborate on how his case was handled.
That inquiry, led by Air Force Gen. James Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, found insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.
The Armed Services Committee advanced Milley’s nomination last week at the same time it endorsed Esper’s nomination. The full Senate confirmed Esper, who had been serving as Army secretary, on a 90-8 vote.
The swift actions taken on Milley and Esper reflect senators’ desire to move quickly to fill numerous vacancies in top roles at the Pentagon. Norquist, who sailed through his confirmation hearing Wednesday, could be confirmed before the August recess.
During Norquist’s hearing, Inhofe noted that there are 18 vacancies in civilian leadership requiring Senate confirmation, and urged Norquist to work with Esper and the White House to fill those positions as quickly as possible.
“I’m concerned the Defense Department is adrift in a way I’ve not seen in my time on Capitol Hill,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the panel’s top Democrat, during Esper’s confirmation hearing earlier this month.
With the Senate expected to move quickly on Norquist’s nomination, it is now possible that the Defense Department soon will have a confirmed secretary and deputy secretary for the first time since January. Esper’s predecessor, James Mattis, resigned in protest in December, causing a domino effect of vacancies as multiple officials moved to the position above in an acting capacity.
Since 2017, Esper and Milley have worked closely together as the Army’s top civilian and uniformed leaders, respectively, earning widespread praise on the Hill for exercising fiscal responsibility and their willingness to cut programs. They will now continue that relationship at a higher level, as Defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs.
Patrick Kelley contributed to this report.
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