White House Irked by GOP Tactic

GOP holding up Army secretary's nomination

The White House is expressing frustration at two GOP senators who have admitted using a procedural tactic to stall the nomination of a fellow Republican, Rep. John McHugh of New York, as secretary of the Army.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced disappointment through his spokesman on Tuesday.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told POLITICO: “The secretary is very disappointed. We are fighting two wars at once, and the service that is bearing the biggest burden is the Army. So it needs and deserves this leadership. ... We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Congressman McHugh.”

The two senators from KansasSam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans — are using a senatorial prerogative known as a “hold” to prevent the nomination from coming to a floor vote.

“At a time of two wars, and when Secretary Gates has authorized a 22,000-soldier increase in end strength for the Army, it is simply irresponsible to play politics with these critical nominations,” a senior administration official said of the moves. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed McHugh’s nomination on a voice vote on Aug. 4.
The senators boasted about their maneuver in a joint news release last week: “U.S. Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) placed legislative ‘holds’ on key administration appointees to the Departments of Defense and Justice until they receive answers from the White House regarding recent press reports that decisions have been made to locate Guantanamo Bay detainees in Leavenworth, Kan., or Standish, Mich. In addition to the holds, the senators requested either assurance that Leavenworth, Kan., was not an option or answers to the following questions regarding the safety and logistics involved.”

Obama nominated McHugh, former the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, on June 2. McHugh has served on the Armed Services Committee since 1993 and had represented his district for 16 years.

In announcing the nomination in the Diplomatic Room, Obama said: “I should note that this patriotism runs in the McHugh family. During World War II, John's father served with distinction on a B-17 bomber, his mother cared for wounded GIs through the Nurses Corps. I know giving up his seat in Congress after nine terms will require a sacrifice — both for John and his constituents. But I also know that he is more than ready to carry on his family's tradition of service and to write the next great chapter of his own service to his country. And I know that the Army and America will be stronger for it.”

In McHugh’s remarks, he said: “I would simply say that for all of the special feelings for all of the military, I've always had the Army somewhat apart. I grew up in the shadows of Fort Drum. For the last 20 years, I've worked in concert with those men and women of the communities around that great facility in support of the men and women of the 10th Mountain Division, as the president so graciously noted my service on the Army Caucus and the Board of Visitors at West Point. The Army has always had a special place in my heart and, Mr. President, that's why I so deeply appreciate this nomination.”

Brownback has used this playbook before, on Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. The senator told The Washington Times in March: "I am going to be doing everything I can to hold up this nominee.”

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