WASHINGTON — To resolve the political impasse surrounding the nomination of Eric Fanning as Army secretary, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain is pressuring the senator who placed the hold and talking with the White House.
A Senate confirmation vote for Fanning, who would become the first openly gay civilian to lead a service branch, is being blocked over a separate issue with the military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center. Fanning's confirmation has been in limbo over one issue or another since it was announced in September.
"I think that he 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," McCain, R-Ariz., said of Fanning on Wednesday. "I am working very hard, and I am working with the White House."
McCain said he is also in talks "ad nauseum" with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who instituted the hold. Roberts is 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.
"He feels very strongly, obviously as you know, about Kansas and Guantanamo," McCain said. "I've tried to explain that the secretary of the Army does not have any control over that."
What concessions the White House might have to make on Guantanamo, McCain said he did not know. "We're going back and forth," he said.
Roberts, speaking briefly with reporters Tuesday, affirmed his hold remained in place and acknowledged the discussions, saying: "We're trying to work something out."
McCain said Fanning is owed closure.
"Every senator has a right to put a hold, but in deference to the process and the individual, they have a right to tell them," McCain said. "You can't just hold people forever in limbo. It' not fair to them."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced Monday her hold on a White House pick for the Pentagon, general counsel nominee Jennifer M. O'Connor. Ayotte said the hold will remain until the White House provides Congress with a certain Guantanamo report, required by law and overdue since January.
McCain drew a contrast between the two holds, saying Ayotte's would likely be lifted when the report is released and is not indefinite.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Fanning still has the support of President Barack Obama and the Pentagon as a qualified candidate.
"We certainly look to continue working with Congress to try and expedite his nomination," Cook said. "We think filling that position is critically important."
Fanning's nomination has been on hold for months, even as McCain's committee voted a month ago to send it to a Senate floor vote.
Last year, McCain had delayed confirmations for some 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 ended in December.
Fanning had a smooth confirmation hearing in January but was forced to resign as acting secretary of the Army under pressure from members of Congress, who questioned whether it was legally appropriate for a nominee to serve in the acting position before he is confirmed.
Army Undersecretary Patrick Murphy is serving as acting secretary.