WASHINGTON — Eric Fanning, the White House nominee to be the next secretary of the Army, is expected to be confirmed soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday afternoon, sources tell Defense News.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confirmed to Defense News that movement on Fanning was imminent, saying "we're not going to have a vote. Just move it. Unanimous consent, take it up and pass it."
The path for Fanning's confirmation has been long and tortured. Nominated in September of last year, the confirmation process hit a number of roadblocks, unusual for a candidate that senators seem to agree is well qualified for the job.
He was named acting undersecretary of the Army in June of last year, in a move widely seen as laying the groundwork for him to replace the retiring John McHugh in November.
The challenges started shortly after his nomination was announced, when McCain, R-Ariz., stopped confirmations for key civilian DoD nominees to protest Democratic rule changes in the confirmation process and Obama's threat to veto the 2016 defense policy bill.
That hold ended in December, but another issue shortly cropped up. Following McHugh's retirement in November, the Pentagon announced Fanning would be acting secretary. However, senators took issue with that, and in January forced Fanning to suspend acting in that capacity. Army Undersecretary Patrick Murphy has been serving as the acting secretary since.
In March, Fanning was finally cleared by the Senate Armed Services Committee, but has remained held up due to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. Roberts instituted the hold while seeking assurances from the administration that Guantanamo will not be closed and detainees transferred to the US — particularly Kansas, home to the military's Leavenworth Detention Center.
In April, McCain said he was working with Roberts to find a compromise on the issue that would allow Fanning to proceed. On Tuesday, McCain told Defense News he and Roberts had come to a compromise.
"We just had some good conversations and wanted to make sure that the language in the defense bill was satisfactory," McCain said. "We're old friends and we worked it out."
Fanning became Air Force undersecretary in April 2013, served several months as acting secretary while the confirmation of now-Secretary Deborah Lee James was stuck in Congress, and was deputy undersecretary of the Navy and its deputy chief management officer from 2009-2013. He also spent the first few months of 2015 as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's chief of staff.