Metro Weekly

Senators McCain and Roberts clash over Eric Fanning’s stalled nomination

Roberts has placed a hold on Fanning's nomination over the White House's stance on Guantanamo detainees

Eric Fanning (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/Released)
Eric Fanning (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/Released)

Two long-serving Republican U.S. senators butted heads last week over the nomination of Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army. If confirmed by the Senate, Fanning would be the first openly gay man to head a branch of the U.S. military.

Last week’s squabble featured a back-and-forth between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), both of whom have served in the House and Senate beginning in President Reagan’s first term. But the two conservatives clashed over Roberts’ decision to put a hold on Fanning’s nomination, thereby preventing a vote by the full Senate. That nomination was previously approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. 

According to Roberts, he placed the hold on Fanning’s nomination because of his opposition to President Obama’s proposal to close down the Guantanamo Bay prison and transfer its detainees to U.S. maximum security prisons. One of those potential sites was Fort Leavenworth, home to the Military Corrections Complex, including the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, a maximum security prison for military members who have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

According to McClatchy, Roberts said he had spoken with the White House to try and work out a solution, but that the White House wouldn’t agree to take Fort Leavenworth off the list of potential sites where detainees would be housed.

McCain argued with Roberts, saying that Fanning was “eminently qualified” to be Secretary of the Army and that his nomination had “nothing to do” with Obama’s policy on Guantanamo. He also said that Roberts’ decision to place a hold on Fanning’s nomination was “not the appropriate use of senatorial privilege” and “a distortion” of the Senate’s duty to advise and consent.

“If we inaugurate a practice here of holding nominees over an issue that is not related to those nominees,” McCain said,” we are abusing our power and authority as United States senators.”

But Roberts argued that he previously blocked the nomination of the current Army Secretary, John McHugh, over the same issue. When the administration assured Roberts that it was not considering Fort Leavenworth as a place to house detainees from Guantanamo, Roberts lifted the hold and McHugh was confirmed by the full Senate.

“I want the Army to have a highly qualified secretary just as much as the distinguished senator from Arizona,” Roberts said. “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.”

McCain countered that the Republican-led Armed Services Committee would not consent to allowing Obama to transfer any detainees to any U.S. site when the committee brings up the National Defense Authorization Act next month. He also vowed to try and push for a vote on Fanning’s nomination in the future, saying the nominee “shouldn’t be held hostage to a policy decision” by the administration.

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