Senate Panel Backs Fanning as Army Secretary, Nomination Still Blocked

Acting Under Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning (right) meets members of a M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle crew during a  live fire exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: Army)
Acting Under Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning (right) meets members of a M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle crew during a live fire exercise at Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo: Army)

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved Eric Fanning to become the next Army secretary, but his nomination as the first openly gay civilian head of a service branch was still being blocked in the full Senate.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, has a "hold" on Fanning's nomination until he gets assurances from the Defense Department and the Obama administration that prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base will not be housed in the future at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Roberts told Politico's Morning Defense that his blocking of Fanning's nomination solely involved the Guantanamo issue, and was not about Fanning's sexual orientation. "I still have a hold," Roberts said. "This isn't the hold that's the issue -- it's Gitmo."

Fanning's nomination had also been delayed by demands from Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and the panel's chairman, for un-redacted Defense Department emails on the Fanning appointment. McCain said he had received the emails and there was nothing in them to delay further the committee's vote.

Earlier, McCain and others on the panel had charged that President Barack Obama violated the little-used Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 by putting Fanning's name forward.

Fanning had been serving as acting Army Secretary since the retirement last year of former Army Secretary John McHugh. McCain said that the Vacancies Act prohibited anyone serving in an "acting" post from getting the full-time job.

To get around McCain's complaint, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter shuffled top Army management posts. Fanning resigned as acting secretary. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat who served in the House from 2007 to 2011 and had been nominated to become Army undersecretary, was named acting secretary until Fanning could get a hearing.

At the nomination hearing last month, McCain appeared to be satisfied with Fanning's compliance. "In my opinion, his resignation has cured the President's violation of the law," McCain said.

In his testimony and in response to questions, Fanning shared the concerns of McCain and other senators on both sides of the aisle on the problems faced by the Army in paring troop strength to 450,000 soldiers and possibly 420,000 soldiers, if mandated budget cuts under spending caps known as sequestration return.

"I do worry about the size of the Army today," Fanning said. The Army has a plan to improve readiness, but "the demand on the force -- the size that it is -- makes it difficult to keep it trained," he said.

Fanning did not serve in the military, but said, "I learned from an early age the importance of service" from two uncles who went to West Point and others in his family with a military background.

Fanning, an Ohio native and a graduate of Dartmouth College, previously served as acting Air Force Secretary and was a key member of the transition team that guided Carter through his Senate confirmation hearings to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last year.

At an Association of the U.S. Army breakfast last month, Gen. Mark Milley, the Army's Chief of Staff, and retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a former Army Chief of Staff, both endorsed Fanning. Milley called Fanning "very effective on the Hill and inside the building (the Pentagon)" and "a pleasure to work with."

The American Military Partner Association, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families, praised the committee's vote on Fanning.

"History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. "We urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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