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Jonathan R. Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

[Eds. note:  Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman later confirmed that Dr. Esper will officially become the secretary of defense upon the president signing the appointment paperwork, which will precede the Oval Office formal swearing in.]


Q:  Hello.  Morning.

Q:  Morning.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  So sorry, just want to give a quick on-the-record update on some confirmation and transition information.  We have a hard stop because I’ve got to run to something in just a little bit, and I apologize, was trying to get here a little bit earlier.  So take a few questions as well on the confirmation and transition.

So thank you for being here.  The purpose of the briefing is to provide an update on the department’s leadership transition plan.  So if Dr. Esper is confirmed by the Senate today and appointed by the president as the secretary of defense, the department’s prepared to rapidly transition him into office.

We are grateful for the Senate leadership and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s willingness to quickly move through this process. 

As you know, Sen. McConnell has announced a noon Senate floor vote today for Dr. Esper.  If confirmed, we expect he will be sworn in this evening.  Planning for a ceremonial swearing-in is ongoing.  Details will follow, and we’ll get that to you either later today or tomorrow.

If the Senate does confirm Dr. Esper, the department will transition its focus to David Norquist’s nomination to be the deputy secretary of defense.  We expect Mr. Norquist’s nomination to be received by the Senate this morning.

There’s one — one change to things we briefed you on before based on that timing.

So, by law, Mr. Norquist can continue performing the duties of the deputy secretary of defense after being formally nominated.  So he has not yet stepped down, to maintain continuity within the department’s leadership. 

However, we worked closely with the Senate leadership on the following plan.  If confirmed, one of the very first things that Dr. Esper will do as secretary of defense, is delegate all duties of the deputy secretary of defense to Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, who has been acting secretary of defense since July 15th.

At that time, Mr. Norquist will cease to perform the duties of the deputy secretary, and he will solely serve as the under secretary of defense comptroller, chief financial officer, while under consideration by the Senate.  This is done out of deference to the Senate, to not presume confirmation. 

So we will send out a press release as soon as these leaderships take place this afternoon.  And keep you posted on all changes.

Similar to the process for Dr. Esper, we will not presume confirmation for Mr. Norquist.  And it’s the prerogative of the Senate to take as long as they think is necessary to examine and confirm a nominee.

Secretary Spencer is performed — performed the duties of the deputy secretary of defense until there is a Senate-confirmed and presidentially appointed deputy secretary of defense.

Mr. Spencer’s leadership during this transition period has allowed the department to continue business as usual.  We are fortunate to have such a talented service secretary who’s fully capable of assuming these duties during this unprecedented period of transition. 

In his performing the duties of the deputy secretary of defense capacity, Secretary Spencer will attend the AFRICOM change of command this Friday in Stuttgart.

So, with that, I’ll take a few questions on transition.


Q:  Yes.  When — when will Spencer have to step down for — from acting SecDef?  Is that after the confirmation or the swearing-in?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  So after — when the secretary — well, the process is, if Secretary Esper is confirmed, at that point, the confirmation, the paperwork from the Senate will go to the White House. 

The White House, the president will formally appoint him — I think, is that the term?  Yeah, he’ll be formally appointed, the secretary of defense.  And will be signed.  And at that point, he becomes the secretary.

Q:  Not the swearing-in part?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  Let me get back to you on that.  I believe it’s when the appointment papers are signed.

Q:  OK.

Q:  The swearing-in ceremony is going to take place here at the Pentagon or at the White House?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  I’m going to have to get back to you on the updates on that.  We’re working through the planning on that and we don’t have an announcement on that.

Q:  OK.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  And let me just double check, but I believe it’s the actual signing of the appointment paper, he becomes the secretary.  But we have an official swearing-in and oath, and then — but I’ll get back to you on that.


Q:  You said that’s this evening, you said, the swearing-in? 

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  We expect that the — once the appointment — we expect the appointment papers to be signed this evening.  If confirmed…

Q:  Oh, this evening.  So it wouldn’t — we shouldn’t expect it right after the vote of noon?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  There’s a process.  I — you know, I don’t…

Q:  Could you let us know, maybe?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  Going to have paperwork, it’s actual paper that’s going to be carried between the Capitol and the White House and has to be signed and get on the president’s calendar or schedule to do that.

Q:  OK.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  But we expect that to happen this evening.

Q:  When will the Senate receive Ryan McCarthy’s nomination as Army secretary, and will he immediately revert back to acting Army secretary until then?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  So Ryan McCarthy’s paperwork, I don’t have an answer for you on that.  That is a — something, I’d have to refer you to the White House on, on the paperwork for that one.  But we expect that to be coming in the near — near term. 

When Ryan McCarthy is nominated to be the secretary of the Army, he is currently serving as the first principal deputy to the secretary of the Army.  So he can continue to serve as the secretary of the Army as he goes through confirmation.

Q:  So Norquist will step aside when his paperwork reaches the Senate, which you expect to happen this morning?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  Norquist will step aside when, if confirmed, Secretary Esper signs the paperwork to — to designate or delegate all the authorities of the deputy to Secretary Spencer.

So unlike Secretary Esper, when his paperwork was submitted under the Vacancies Act, by law, he had to step back.  There is no requirement for an official performing the duties thereof.  So technically, David Norquist could continue performing the duties of the deputy secretary.  But out of deference for the Senate, he’s going to step back. 

So there will be a little window there, where his paperwork is submitted, he will continue performing the duties and then when Esper is confirmed, he will sign — assign those duties to Richard Spencer.  And at that point, David Norquist will go back to being the comptroller.  That’s why we’re going (inaudible).

Q:  So he won’t be an acting deputy secretary, he’ll be performing the duties of the…



Q:  OK.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  All right.  Well, any other questions on confirmation, transition?

Q:  When will be the — the first time we will see Secretary Spencer?


Q:  Esper, Esper.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  Secretary Esper?

Q:  Esper, sorry.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  I don’t have anything announced, to announce.  I will tell you guys that I would expect that you will see him, likely tomorrow.  But I don’t have anything to announce on that right now.  So just keep, you know, we’ll keep you posted.  We’re working through the schedule for tomorrow.  We’re trying not presume anything today, while at the same time trying to plan appropriately.

All right? 

I’ll get back to you.  I’ll go get that question cleared up for you real quick.  And then I will have somebody come back down and tell everybody what the answer to that question was.

Q:  OK, thank you.

Q:  And also the place.  Because the photographers will want to see the ceremony, the swearing-in?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  The swearing?  Oh, we will definitely — whenever that takes place, we will have — we’ll work with, whether it’s here or at the White House, we will work with the appropriate people to try to get access for the photos for that, and have at least a release, but likely will have press coverage.  But I will — I’ll work with the White House if it’s over there, and we’ll work with you guys here to make sure that happens.

Q:  OK.  Thank you.

Q:  You’re referring to a ceremonial swearing-in?  Or the official swearing-in?  Because there’s two things, right?

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  The official — the ceremonial, there will be — that will be an open press event, yes.  Of course.

Q:  Yes.  Even the first one, I mean, they want the first photo, of course.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  Yes.  So the official, I’ll work with on that today. 

Q:  Yes.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  And the ceremonial, that will be an open press event.

Q:  OK.

Q:  OK.

ASST. TO THE SEC. HOFFMAN:  We’re still working through the planning on that.  We will have an update for you guys either this evening or tomorrow.  Once he’s actually confirmed, it makes it a little bit easier for us to talk about some of our planning efforts.  But we will have an update for you guys on that. 

All right, guys.  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you.