WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Eric Fanning, the White House nominee to be the next secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay man to hold an armed service's top civilian position.
"Eric Fanning's historic confirmation today as Secretary of the U.S. Army is a demonstration of the continued progress towards fairness and equality in our nation's armed forces," HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. "Eric Fanning has spent his career serving this nation with tireless dedication, skill and ability, and as secretary he will bring that same commitment to the men and women of the U.S. Army."
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Roberts announced he had a private meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who told him that he was the official "charged with executing any movement of detainees to the mainland, where he would be unable to fulfill such an order before the close of this administration."
"Practically speaking, the clock has run out for the president," Roberts said.
There was also growing pressure on Roberts to release the hold, including items in the New York Times and Washington Post, which spotlighted Roberts' obstruction on Fanning, widely considered a highly qualified candidate, if not a historic pick. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, whose committee advanced Fanning's nomination months ago, who said in April he had spoken with Roberts "ad nauseum" on the issue.
On Tuesday, McCain appeared beside Roberts and voiced his respect for the concerns of his "friend from Kansas," saying he and Roberts worked on this year's defense policy bill, which — if passed into law — would bar any administration request to reprogram funding to move detainees to the mainland. McCain also praised the US Army base Fort Leavenworth, home to a detention facility Roberts worried would house detainees, and the Army's general staff college.
"He will be a tremendous leader as Army secretary and will do great by our soldiers at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley," he said, adding: "I look forward to voting for Mr Fanning, who has always had my support for this position."
Fanning was confirmed at around 5 p.m. by unanimous consent, meaning there was no opposition to force a roll call vote by the full Senate. Several lawmakers reacted with praise for Fanning on social media.
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 Army Secretary John McHugh in November.
The challenges started shortly after his nomination was announced, when McCain 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.
Military Times staff writer Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory contributed to this report.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.