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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Senator, After 25 Years in Washington, Is Now a Senator-in-Waiting

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It’s a neat trick for a member of Congress to speak out against his own president, but that’s what Senator Mark Esper, a Republican from Maine, did in a speech on the Senate floor in February.

He was describing the fight for the survival of the Iran nuclear deal, the effort to persuade the president to reject any effort by Congress to reimpose sanctions on Iran. (Trump eventually sided with the conservatives on the topic, but only after making what Esper described as an “astonishing final announcement,” withdrawing the United States from the agreement.)

Later, Mr. Esper said, he watched his son, who was born with muscular dystrophy, age 12, as he prepared to celebrate a trip to India and be greeted by children whose parents had walked miles to attend his school graduation. “It was a cruel irony,” Mr. Esper said.

Now Mr. Esper, 61, is among four senators who have sent a letter to President Trump about next month’s vote to raise the ceiling on the national debt by $350 billion, a vote that Republican lawmakers are nearly unanimously expected to support.

Mr. Esper, who lost his seat to Democrats in 2016, is retiring in January, about a month before Mr. Trump’s term in office will end. He is one of seven Senate Republicans who had said they would not back a debt ceiling increase until the GOP produced a long-term budget deal for entitlement programs like Medicare. But the budget plan that passed the House last week contained no long-term entitlement plan, and it was rejected by the Senate, where Republicans would not back a rise in the debt limit without such a plan.

The debt limit increase, which would have allowed Washington to borrow more money to pay its bills, was opposed by all but a few Senate Democrats, and Mr. Esper was not one of them.

He got his start in Washington in 1986, when he was named vice president of congressional relations at the American Iron and Steel Institute, a business group and nonprofit group that lobbies on behalf of the steel industry. A decade later, he rose to the top of the association, and in 2006, he was named a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan policy organization.

To fill his time as a senator, Mr. Esper worked for the International Tennis Federation, the marketing company VF Corporation and as an agent for the athletes Alessandro Del Piero, Michael Barrow and Barry Sanders.

He has not revealed what he plans to do after he leaves Washington. He has so far not taken up a new employer, and he had no answers to questions about what kind of work he would do once he returned to Maine.

“Whether it’s law, public service, business, entrepreneurship or philanthropy, Mark is interested in improving the quality of life for others,” said his spokesman, Larry Perrotti.

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