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Mark Esper. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Senate voted 90 to 8 on Tuesday to confirm Mark Esper as the new secretary of defense.

Why it matters: The Trump administration went a record 204 days without a Senate-confirmed defense secretary, following the resignation of James Mattis in December and the withdrawal of acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan last month.

  • Throughout that period, the U.S. has seen a rising threat of military conflict in both Iran and Venezuela, with Iranian tensions in particular reaching new heights over the last few weeks in the Strait of Hormuz.
  • The U.S. military also remains actively engaged in Syria and Afghanistan, in addition to providing arms sales and having troops deployed in dozens of other countries around the world.

What to know: Esper is a veteran of the Gulf War and served as Trump's acting Army secretary. He worked as a policy staffer on Capitol Hill and later as a lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon. During Esper's confirmation hearing, he declined to say that he would recuse himself from issues involving Raytheon after being grilled on his lobbying record by Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

  • Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Esper was prevented from serving as acting defense secretary while engaged in the Senate confirmation process. He will now replace Richard Spencer, who is the Trump administration's third acting defense secretary this year, per AP.

Of note: Of the eight Democrats who voted against Esper's confirmation, five are running for president. That includes Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did not vote.

Go deeper: Trump’s incredibly empty Cabinet

Go deeper

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

The limits of Biden's plan to cancel student debt

Data: New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax; Chart: Axios Visuals

There’s a growing consensus among Americans who want President Biden to cancel student debt — but addressing the ballooning debt burden is much more complicated than it seems.

Why it matters: Student debt is stopping millions of Americans from buying homes, buying cars and starting families. And the crisis is rapidly getting worse.

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.