White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest lashed out Monday over the delay on confirmation an openly gay nominee poised to become the next Army secretary, saying the senator responsible for the hold “relishes the opportunity to be before the camera.”
In response to a question from Bloomberg News, Earnest said he didn’t have any procedural update on the nomination of Eric Fanning, who was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, but since that time has yet to receive a floor vote.
“Obviously, there is no questioning Mr. Fanning’s commitment to serving this country,” Earnest continued. “He is someone of unquestioned integrity and expertise when it comes to the critical functions of the United States Army. And he is a nominee who deserves bipartisan confirmation by the United States Senate, and he’s been held up for too long. And it’s unfortunate that his nomination and his career in service to this country has been ensnared in political arguments made by one particular senator.”
Fanning, nominated by President Obama in September, is unable to receive a full Senate vote because Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) has placed a hold on the nomination, citing concerns with Obama’s plan to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
Earnest said the Obama administration has been clear about its commitment to closing the prison with the cooperation of the Senate, lambasting Roberts for making it an issue with respect to the Fanning nomination.
“It is hard to imagine that Senator Roberts takes this particularly seriously,” Earnest said. “You may recall the last time that anybody has talked about Senator Roberts was when he filmed a video of himself crumbling up the president’s plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and throwing it in a wastebasket. So maybe he relishes the opportunity to be before the camera, but it’s not apparent that he takes this critically important national security issue all that seriously.”
Sarah Little, a Roberts spokesperson, said the senator will lift his hold on the Fanning nomination if Obama pledges not to send any terrorist suspects to Kansas upon closing Guantanamo Bay.
“Sen. Roberts is perfectly willing to release the hold on Fanning’s nomination anytime the White House can assure him they will follow the law and not bring terrorists to Ft. Leavenworth,” Little said. “He is just a phone call away.”
Although Roberts said he bases his hold on Guantanamo Bay, the senator has an anti-gay voting record that includes support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and a vote against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
The White House isn’t alone in seeking movement on the Fanning nomination. According to Defense News, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) has told reporters he’s urged Roberts “ad nauseum” to drop the hold so the confirmation process can move forward and is talking with the White House.
“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 reportedly said earlier this month. “I am working very hard, and I am working with the White House.”
Prior to Fanning’s committee vote, McCain objected to the nomination on the basis that Fanning was serving as Army secretary in an acting capacity, which the senator said was in violation of the Vacancies Act. After Fanning stepped aside, McCain allowed the Senate Armed Services Committee to consider the nomination.
Matthew Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, joined Earnest in saying the time has come for a Senate vote on the Fanning nomination.
“Eric has been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. McCain had urged for a vote, we believe that Eric would have a sizable majority in favor of confirmation,” Thorn said. “There is no substantive reason to delay Eric’s confirmation any longer than it already has.”
Thorn added the White House should up its game in pushing forward the Fanning nomination before time runs out at the end of the Obama administration.
“We are tired of the political games,” Thorn said. “Sen. Roberts should allow a vote of confirmation now and the White House needs to make this a priority. To date the White House has not taken any significant action on Eric’s nomination since being nominated in September. I think we are far past the point where the White House needs to start advocating for and defending their nominee.”