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Senate Confirms First Openly Gay Army Secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate today confirmed the first openly gay secretary of any armed services branch after a GOP lawmaker dropped his hold on Eric Fanning’s nomination.

President Obama nominated former Air Force undersecretary Eric Fanning to be secretary of the Army last September. His confirmation passed by voice vote.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) was blocking Fanning’s nomination over the concern that the Obama administration would move Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. — and potentially his home state.

“I have pledged to the people of Kansas that I would do everything in my power to stop President Obama from moving terrorist detainees to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the intellectual center of the Army. I believe today that I can tell Kansans that the threat from this administration will go unfulfilled,” Roberts said in a statement today.

“Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who would be responsible for leading the plans to relocate terrorist detainees at Ft. Leavenworth, assured me at a May 10 meeting that, ‘I am the person who would have to execute it [the moving of detainees to the mainland], and the clock has run out.’ Now I want to be clear that I know this will not change the president’s on-going insistence that he will close the facilities before he leaves office,” the senator continued.

“But I take Deputy Secretary Work at his word. He understands the significant and costly changes that would need to be made at Ft. Leavenworth to change the post’s mission. He understands the myriad of challenges that Ft. Leavenworth poses after reviewing earlier analyses. Most importantly, he understands the legal restrictions on funding to move the detainees to Ft. Leavenworth by January 20, 2017.”

Because of those assurances, Roberts said he lifted his hold on Fanning, “who has always had my support for this position.”

“My hold was never about his courage, character or capability, but rather about our nation’s security if the detainees were moved to Ft. Leavenworth. I believe Eric Fanning will be a tremendous leader for the Army, including those who serve at Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Riley in my state. I thank Mr. Fanning for his efforts and look forward to working with him,” Roberts added.

Fanning, 47, worked on the House Armed Services Committee early in his career and at the White House before moving over to the Navy as deputy undersecretary in 2009. He was nominated by President Obama for the Air Force undersecretary in 2012 and confirmed the following year. He stepped into the acting secretary role when Michael Donley resigned in June 2013, and Deborah Lee James was confirmed that December as secretary. From March to June 2015, Fanning was Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s chief of staff.

Before joining the Obama administration, Fanning worked at Business Executives for National Security and as an associate producer at CBS News.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy organization, called Fanning’s confirmation a “historic” moment.

“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,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “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.”

Fanning was not asked about LGBT issues during his January confirmation hearing. He was asked about women in combat and whether women should be required to register for a military draft.

“I do think if we are focused on equal opportunity, I think a part of that is equal responsibility,” Fanning replied.