The first openly gay person to be nominated to lead a branch of the military has been forced to temporarily step down from his position amid pressure from Congress.
Eric Fanning’s nomination as Army Secretary has been in limbo since it was announced in September that he would replace Secretary John McHugh. Fanning took over as Acting Secretary in November, but his nomination has languished since, thanks to Republican members of the Senate.
Members of the Armed Services Committee “expressed ‘some concerns’ about Fanning being slotted into the acting position,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement, Defense News reports. The committee is responsible for holding a confirmation hearing prior to Fanning’s nomination being voted on by the Senate, but that hearing has thus far failed to take place.
“While the Administration believes the designation of Fanning as Acting Secretary of the Army is consistent with the Vacancies Act, as a show of comity to address these concerns, Fanning has agreed to step out of his acting role to focus on achieving confirmation in the near future,” Cook continued. “He remains one of the most qualified nominees to be a Service Secretary, having served in many senior executive positions in each of the three military departments and as Chief of Staff of the Department.”
Chief culprit in forcing Fanning to step down is Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who placed a hold on his nomination shortly after Fanning assumed the role of Acting Secretary. Roberts objected to President Obama’s plans to shut down Guantanamo Bay and transfer any persons detained there to the United States, his office told Stars and Stripes. At the time, military officials were considering locations to transfer any detainees to — one of which included the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Leavenworth, Kansas, according to CNN, something Roberts wasn’t happy with. Roberts will apparently leave his hold in place until President Obama guarantees that Kansas won’t accommodate Guantanamo detainees.
While Fanning’s hold is due to politicking, Roberts certainly won’t be eager to see an openly gay man in charge of the Army. He has a perfect zero rating from Human Rights Campaign due to his continued opposition to LGBT equality. He voted against expanding hate crime legislation to include sexual orientation, wants to amend the Constitution to define traditional marriage, and believes that a state’s definition of marriage supersedes the federal definition.
Another roadblock to Fanning’s nomination has been Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain’s spokesperson attests that he “is looking to hold a hearing to consider Mr. Fanning’s nomination as soon as possible.” However, McCain has been delaying confirmation hearings for a number of Democrat appointees in 2015. “I told ’em: ‘You jam them through, it’s going to be a long time before I approve of them,'” McCain said, according to Politico, after Democrats changed confirmation rules in 2013 and approved several appointees without allowing Republican lawmakers to block them. “It’s affected me as chairman of the Armed Services,” he added.
The committee has approved several positions, including a new Army chief of staff, Marine Corps commandant, and defense secretary Ash Carter, but Fanning’s nomination remains stuck. President Obama’s nomination for Under Secretary, Patrick Murphy, was confirmed without any impediments and he will assume Fanning’s role as Acting Secretary until Fanning’s nomination is approved.
Carter took the committee to task during his confirmation hearing in December, telling them their repeated blocking of nominees was making it harder for the military to do its job.
“DoD currently has 16 nominees awaiting [confirmation, and] 12 of the 16 are still awaiting even a hearing, including our nominees to be secretary of the Army, the undersecretaries of each of our three military departments, Army, Navy and Air Force, and the undersecretaries of both intelligence and personnel and readiness,” Carter said. “These positions should be filled by confirmed nominees, especially in a time of conflict.”
Should the committee ever decide to hold Fanning’s confirmation hearing, he would make history as the first openly gay civilian Secretary of the Army. With 25 years of experience, including roles on the House Armed Services Committee, Deputy Under Secretary and Deputy Chief Management Officer for the Department of the Navy, and Under Secretary of the Air Force, Fanning is more than qualified for the role. He served as Under Secretary of the Army prior to being nominated.
“Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role,” Obama said in a statement at the time of Fanning’s nomination. “I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world.”
“History continues to be written and equality marches forward with the nomination of an openly gay man to serve in this significantly important role,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of AMPA, a support organization for LGBT military families, said when Fanning was nominated. “Fanning’s expertise and knowledge within the defense community together with his sensitivity to issues faced by LGBT service members and their families is why we urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm his appointment.”
If Fanning is ever allowed to carry out his duties with the approval of the Senate, it will mark a major step for LGBT inclusion in the military, a process that started in September 2011 when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell finally came to an end.
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