Gillibrand Only Democrat to Skip Esper Confirmation Hearing

Struggling 2020 candidate attends candidate forum in Iowa

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
July 16, 2019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) skipped Tuesday's Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for Mark Esper, President Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Defense.

Gillibrand is in Iowa, appearing Tuesday afternoon for a presidential candidate forum sponsored by the AARP and the Des Moines Register.

Calls and emails to Gillibrand's campaign and Senate offices about why she skipped the hearing went unreturned.

A recent poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers n Iowa showed her at 0.4 percent support in the 2020 field, tied with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and behind Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) and former Rep. John Delaney (D., Md.).

Reporters covering Esper's hearing expressed surprise Gillibrand would skip the chance to publicly air any concerns with Esper. She was the only Democratic member on the committee not to attend.

Sexual assault in the military has been one of Gillibrand's top issues since she first entered the U.S. Senate in 2009. She wrote Esper a letter last week when he was still Acting Secretary of Defense to personally address sexual assault allegations against General John Hyten, Trump's nominee for Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Senator Gillibrand is committed to keeping Americans safe from threats overseas and at home," her Senate website says. "From her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, she has been a vocal advocate for strengthening America’s armed services, national security, and military readiness."

Another presidential candidate on the committee, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), attended, and she made the biggest stir of any of the questioners. Warren declared Esper unfit for the position after he wouldn't agree to stricter ethics commitments regarding his past lobbying work for defense contractor Raytheon.

Gillibrand and Warren were two of just six "nay" votes against Esper's confirmation for Secretary of the Army. His confirmation as the next Pentagon chief appears likely, with praise coming from both parties during his hearing for his military service and extensive experience in Washington.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president, called Esper "a person of sound character and moral courage."

Gillibrand was also the only Democratic senator to skip January's Environmental and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing for Andrew Wheeler to be the next administration of the Environmental Protection Agency. She remained in New York City following the launch of her presidential exploratory committee.