Warren Clashes With Esper Over Raytheon Work

2020 hopeful with ties to Raytheon loses temper with Pentagon nominee: 'This is outrageous!'

July 16, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) aggressively questioned Secretary of Defense nominee Mark Esper Tuesday over the ethical implications of his prior lobbying for Raytheon, the defense giant with ties to Warren.

Warren, a leading 2020 presidential candidate, lit into Esper during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing over his prior Raytheon work and concluded he shouldn't be confirmed.

"Will you commit not to work for or get paid by any defense contractor for at least four years after your government service?" Warren asked.

"No, senator, I will not," Esper said.

Warren accused Esper of acting in his own financial interests rather than those of the U.S., leading Esper to deliver a forceful response.

"I went to war for this country; I served overseas for this country," he said. "I've stepped down from jobs that paid me well more than what I was [making] anywhere else, and each time, it was to serve the public good and to serve the young men and women of our armed services. I think the presumption is, for some reason, anybody who comes from the business or corporate world is corrupt."

Warren said Esper wasn't willing to avoid conflicts of interest, grumbling, "this is outrageous," as her questioning session concluded.

Warren also blistered Esper for not extending a recusal from Raytheon matters past this fall. Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan elected to recuse himself from matters involving his former employer Boeing. Esper said his situation with Raytheon was different and that he would follow the recommendation of Pentagon ethics professionals not to recuse himself.

Warren grew impatient, cutting him off from explaining further and saying she would take it as a "yes, you are unwilling to make that commitment." The two also argued over a waiver Esper could receive that would allow him to weigh in on matters involving Raytheon and not violate any ethics pledges: Warren said such a waiver would be "corruption, plain and simple."

Warren released a plan in May to crack down on corporate lobbying influence at the Pentagon, but her Senate career has shown consistent delivery on behalf of defense giants like Raytheon and General Dynamics.

Raytheon is headquartered in Warren's home state, and it is one of the largest employers in Massachusetts. Warren spoke by phone to Raytheon chief executive William Swanson during her first campaign in 2012 about the potential effects of sequestration's automatic budget cuts, and the company reported having a "positive relationship" with her after she took office.

Federal Election Commission filings showed Raytheon executive Pamela Wickham gave $1,250 to Warren's presidential campaign in the second quarter of 2019.

Esper, the current Secretary of the Army, was officially nominated this week to permanently head the Pentagon. James Mattis, President Donald Trump's first Secretary of Defense, stepped down in December.

Sen. Rick Scott (R., Fla.) criticized Warren for her questioning later on, telling Esper it seemed like she was searching for a viral moment for her presidential campaign.

UPDATED 3:24 P.M.: This article was updated with Scott's remarks.