Nomination of first openly gay Secretary of the Army still blocked for one reason

Then-acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning shakes hands with Lt. Gen. Brooks Bash, Air Mobility Command vice commander, during a visit to Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Aug. 22, 2013. During his visit, he spoke with Airmen about their concerns and explained future policies taking place in our nation's capital. Photo credit: Senior Airman Tristin English

Eric Fanning, a Michigan native and Ivy League school graduate, became the first openly gay Secretary of the Army nomination on November 3, 2015.

While Fanning never served in the military after graduating from Dartmouth College in 1990, he has a long history of service in the Department of Defense.

He served as deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer for the Department of the Navy. He was also deputy director of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.  In 2012, President Obama nominated him to be Under Secretary of the Air Force and he became the second longest-tenured acting secretary.

In March 2015, Fanning was named “special assistant” to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense.  A few months later he was appointed as the Under Secretary of the Army and Chief Management Officer until he was chosen to be the acting Secretary of the Army.

Eric Fanning (second from right). Photo credit: Facebook
Eric Fanning (second from right). Photo credit: Facebook

Since his appointment in January of 2015, a lone Republican Senator has stood his ground to block his nomination.

Senator Pat Roberts, of Kansas, is blocking his nomination for the same reason he held up former Army Secretary John McHugh’s nomination in 2009; he does not want Guantanamo Bay prisoners on United States soil.

The Obama administration has been determined to close the infamous detention facility before the end of the president’s term but has failed to assure the Senator the prisoners will not end up in his state of Kansas, at Fort Leavenworth.

According to the New York Times, notable Republicans, such as John McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee –who has rarely agreed with President Obama– believe Senator Roberts is being unreasonable.

In a way, Senator Roberts is extorting the President because Fanning’s position has no authority to determine the fate of the Guantanamo detainees.

“The senator’s hold on Eric Fanning is not personal,” Katherine Knight, a spokeswoman for Roberts, said in a statement to Army Times. “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.”

For Eric Fanning to become the first openly gay Secretary of the Army –holding a top level position in a third branch of the military- the Obama Administration or Senator Roberts will have to compromise.

“If he’s not confirmed soon, it won’t make much sense for him or the Army to go forward,” according to Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Until then, Fanning will occupy his desk on the third floor of the Pentagon with not much else to do besides enjoying the view of the National Mall monuments through his windows.

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