Eric Fanning, the gay man nominated by President Obama to be the next secretary of the Army, has stepped down from his post as acting secretary, a move he hopes will be temporary.
Fanning stepped aside “as a show of comity” with the U.S. Senate, which has yet to approve his nomination, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told the Associated Press Monday.
Fanning, who has been serving as acting secretary since last fall, would be the first openly gay head of any military branch if the Senate confirms his appointment. But Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, has placed a hold on Fanning’s nomination as a show of protest over Obama’s plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its detainees to prisons on U.S. soil.
Human rights activists have criticized the operation at Guantanamo, set up by President George W. Bush to house terrorism suspects, because prisoners are often held for years without trial. Obama has aimed to close it throughout his presidency, but current law prohibits the transfer of its inmates to the U.S. Roberts’s move aimed to prevent Obama from taking executive action to close the prison.
In nominating Fanning for secretary of the Army last September, Obama lauded his qualifications, issuing a statement saying, “Eric brings many years of proven experience and exceptional leadership to this new role. I look forward to working with Eric to keep our Army the very best in the world.”
Fanning has been working in national security for about 25 years. His previous positions include undersecretary and acting secretary of the Air Force. He has been acting secretary of the Army since the previous secretary, John McHugh, stepped down November 1.
The Senate last week confirmed Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran and former congressman, as undersecretary of the Army, so he will oversee the branch until Fanning is confirmed, the AP reports. Fanning will work in another Pentagon post until then and will “focus on achieving confirmation in the near future,” Cook told the news service.