WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee voted Thursday to advance Eric Fanning's nomination to become the new Army secretary to the full Senate, but he still faces other obstacles from lawmakers before taking over the job.
The SASC, which has jurisdiction over Fanning’s nomination, took a voice vote in favor of Fanning, whose nomination has been in limbo for months. Fanning would be the first openly gay civilian to lead a US armed service.
Fanning had a smooth confirmation hearing, but he nonetheless stepped down as acting secretary of the Army in January under pressure from members of Congress. Senators expressed concerns about whether it was legally appropriate for a nominee to serve in the acting position before his confirmation.
On Wednesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said Fanning's nomination had been delayed because the committee was dissatisfied with the level of redaction in emails requested from the Defense Department for review. The emails were ones Defense Secretary Ash Carter admitted to improperly sending from a personal email account.
"They were totally redacted, and we wanted to see all of them," McCain said. "I think there's only one or two with redacted portions."
Army Undersecretary Patrick Murphy has since been serving as acting secretary.
The road ahead is not entirely clear for Fanning. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., placed a hold on Fanning's nomination in early November to protest President Barack Obama's ongoing campaign to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility and transfer detainees to the United States. The move was part of an effort to prevent the White House from taking executive action to close the facility.
"The Senator's hold on Eric Fanning is not personal," Roberts spokesperson Sarah Little said in a statement Thursday. "The Senator has asked the Administration to provide a guarantee that detainees will not wind up in Kansas, as he was able to do when this issue first arose in 2009. This request has been articulated to John McHugh, before he left office as Secretary of the Army, to those working closely on the 'plan,' and to Secretary Carter on several occasions. He remains committed to stopping the president from moving a single detainee to the U.S. and will continue to use all legislative tools at his disposal to do so."
Fanning became Air Force undersecretary in April 2013. He served several months as acting secretary while the confirmation of now-Secretary Deborah Lee James was stuck in Congress. Before that, he was deputy undersecretary of the Navy and its deputy chief management officer from 2009-2013.
When Carter entered office in early 2015, one of his first moves was tapping Fanning as his chief of staff. In that role, he helped organize his boss' transition to the Pentagon's top spot and assisted in day-to-day operations.