Eric Fanning, President Barack Barack Obama's choice to become the next Army secretary, will keynote a military gay rights event this weekend while two long-time Republican senators battle over the hold on his nomination.
Fanning, the former acting Air Force secretary and deputy undersecretary of the Navy, was scheduled to be the main speaker Saturday at the 3rd annual gala in Washington, D.C., of the American Military Partner Association, which has been called the largest lesbian gay bisexual transgender (LGBT) military event of the year.
"We are absolutely thrilled to have Eric Fanning keynote" the event at the Hyatt-Regency, AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said. "As an openly gay man who continues to break down barriers within our Armed Forces, Mr. Fanning truly leads by example and inspires our military families."
The nonprofit bills itself as the nation's largest organization of LGBT military families, and claims 45,000 member and supporters advocating for "modern military families."
Fanning would become the first openly gay service secretary, but his nomination has been put on hold by Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and former Marine, despite a vote to confirm by the Senate Armed Services Committee and its chairman, Sen. John McCain.
Roberts' continuing hold has blocked a vote by the full Senate. Former Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat, has been serving as acting Army Secretary during the hold.
Roberts has said repeatedly that Fanning's sexual orientation had nothing to do with his blocking the nomination. To lift the hold, Roberts has demanded a guarantee from the administration and the Pentagon that if any prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility are ever transferred to the U.S., they will not be sent to Kansas.
The Pentagon has explored the possibility of transferring some of the detainees to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and other sites in the U.S. And McCain has charged that his committee has already taken action that would block transfers to the U.S., making Roberts' hold pointless.
The two senators last week took their increasingly heated dispute to the Senate floor.
"I think that he (Fanning) is qualified, and we ought to give him the benefit of a decision on whether we will continuously hold him or we're going to move forward," said McCain, an Arizona Republican.
"I am working very hard, and I am working with the White House," McCain said. He added that he had spoken "ad nauseam (to the point of nausea)" with Roberts to no avail on lifting the hold.
Roberts shot back, "I want the Army to have a highly qualified secretary just as much as the distinguished senator from Arizona. But it is due to my deep respect and concern for our men and women in uniform at Fort Leavenworth and those who live and work in the region that has compelled me to issue my hold on the president's nominee in the first place."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.