Sen. Pat Roberts blocks vote on Army secretary over Guantanamo

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nomination of President Barack Obama’s choice to serve as Army secretary remains blocked by a Kansas senator over administration efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer detainees to the U.S.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, taken May 20, 2014, Eric Fanning speaks in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Duncan Wood/U.S. Air Force via AP)
In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, taken May 20, 2014, Eric Fanning speaks in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Duncan Wood/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Eric Fanning, who has held several jobs in the Pentagon, would be the first openly gay leader of a U.S. military service if confirmed. But Republican Sen. Pat Roberts placed a hold on the nomination last year and refused to relent on Thursday despite pleas from the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“My hold on the nominee is to protect the security of the United States and more especially the people of Kansas,” Roberts said on the Senate floor.

Closing the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay was a theme of Obama’s 2008 campaign, and he has pushed to shutter the facility, which he argues is costly and gives extremists a recruiting tool. Congress repeatedly has prohibited the transfer of any detainees to U.S. soil, and the possibility of Kansas’ Fort Leavenworth as an alternative prompted Roberts’ actions.

Roberts said his hold has nothing to do with Fanning’s qualifications or character. “I would be more than happy to vote on Fanning’s nomination” once there are assurances from the White House.

The senator said he had a conversation Thursday morning with the White House in hopes the issue could be worked out, but the administration would not rule out Leavenworth as a potential location for detainees.

McCain argued that it was unfair to block Fanning’s nomination over an unrelated issue. He said Roberts “is shooting a hostage” and abusing his power.

“That’s not the role of advise and consent,” McCain said. “That is a distortion of advise and consent.”

Fanning has held senior positions in the Air Force, including undersecretary from 2013 to 2015.

 

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