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

8 hours ago - Health

Fauci says if people won't wear masks, maybe it should be mandated

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Graeme Jennings- Pool/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday evening that if "people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it."

Why it matters: Fauci made the comments the same day the U.S. hit its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began.

Harris to Black voters: Casting a ballot is about honoring your ancestors

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks at a "Get Out The Vote" rally at Morehouse College. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Kamala Harris appealed to Black voters in Georgia on Friday, urging them to "honor the ancestors" by casting ballots, and again calling President Trump a "racist."

Why it matters: The U.S. saw a significant decline in African-American voter turnout between 2012 and 2016, reaching its lowest point since 2000. Higher turnout among Black Americans this year could tip the balance in favor of Democrats in key battleground states, including Georgia.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci: Trump hasn't been to a COVID task force meeting in months.
  2. Sports: The youth sports exodus continues — Big Ten football is back.
  3. Health: U.S. hits highest daily COVID-19 case count since pandemic began —AstraZeneca to resume vaccine trial in U.S.How to help save 130,000 lives.
  4. Retail: Santa won't greet kids at Macy's this year.
  5. World: Spain and France exceed 1 million cases.