The New York Times reported Monday on what we discussed here last week: the Trump Administration has been slow to name people to fill the top policy spots in the Federal departments, including the Department of Defense. When Senator John McCain went home to Arizona unexpectedly last week, to have a two-inch blood clot removed from behind his eyes, it potentially put more than the healthcare “repeal and replace” effort on hold until he returns.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it is McCain’s prerogative to preside over nomination hearings and Senate debate for defense nominees. His absence threatened to further delay the process. But on Monday, SASC communications director Rachel Hoff told reporters that  the process would continue in the chairman’s absence.


Last night, the Senate invoked cloture on the nomination of Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan to be the deputy defense secretary, the department’s number-two position. Only six of the most liberal senators voted against the move, and six more (including, naturally, McCain) did not vote. The vote ends debate on the nomination and sets up a final vote for today.

The current deputy secretary, Robert Work, is still officially on the job, although the Pentagon announced Friday was his last day in the office. Expect Shanahan to be sworn-in by the end of the week if today’s vote goes as planned.


The SASC will also proceed with two hearings today, with Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the number-two Republican on the committee, at the helm.

At 9:30, the committee will consider the reappointment of Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At 2:30, the committee will consider four more Trump nominees:

  • John H. Gibson, II as deputy chief management officer for Department Of Defense
  • Ms. Ellen M. Lord as under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics
  • Lucian L. Niemeyer as assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment
  • Matthew P. Donovan as under secretary of the Air Force

The SASC has taken a week or two following hearings to report on its other nominees this session, so these nominees can expect to be on the job some time in August, a week or so after the nominees who went before the committee last week.

With this hearing, the committee has only four nominees to consider before it has gone through all the people the administration has presented. An assistant to Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Breaking Defense last month that a “bow wave” of nominations for these key but unfilled policy positions was imminent.

The wait continues.

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Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin