McCain, Roberts lock horns on Senate floor over Obama’s Army nominee

Arizona Sen. John McCain pleaded with a fellow Republican, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, on the Senate floor Thursday to withdraw his objection and allow a vote on Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army.

But Roberts wouldn’t budge, again citing his opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposal to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and transfer its detainees to U.S. sites, including, potentially, Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Roberts said the White House called him Thursday to try to work out a solution but wouldn’t promise to take Fort Leavenworth off the list.

Obama nominated Fanning in September, and McCain’s committee voted to confirm him last month. If confirmed by the full Senate, Fanning would be the first openly gay secretary of any branch of the military.

“It is not fair to the men and women of the United States Army to be without the leadership of a Secretary of the Army,” McCain said.

At times getting impatient with Roberts, McCain said Fanning was “eminently qualified” and that he had “nothing to do” with he president’s policy on Guantanamo.

McCain, a Navy veteran and former prisoner of war, said Roberts’ action was “not the appropriate use of senatorial privilege” and “a distortion” of the Senate’s duty to advise and consent.

“If we inaugurate a practice here of holding nominees over an issue that is not related to those nominees,” McCain said, “we are abusing our power and authority as United States senators.”

Roberts noted that he had blocked the nomination of a prior Obama Army secretary, John McHugh, in 2009 over the same issue. Once the White House assured him it was not considering Fort Leavenworth as a transfer site, Roberts lifted his objection and McHugh was confirmed.

Roberts, a Marine Corps veteran, said he would be happy to confirm Fanning once the White House addressed his concern.

“I want the Army to have a highly qualified secretary just as much as the distinguished senator from Arizona,” Roberts said. “But it is due to my deep respect and concern for our men and women in uniform at Fort Leavenworth and those who live and work in the region that has compelled me to issue my hold on the president’s nominee in the first place.”

Fort Leavenworth, “the intellectual center of the Army,” Roberts said, “is not a suitable replacement for the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”

McCain assured Roberts that the Armed Services Committee would bar Obama from transferring any detainees to Fort Leavenworth or any U.S. site in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act. The Senate will vote on that bill at the end of next month.

“I would hope that my dear friend from Kansas would understand that what we need to do is get a defense authorization to floor,” McCain said.

McCain said he would try again to get a vote on Fanning’s nomination.

“He shouldn’t be held hostage to a policy decision,” McCain said.