Capitol Beat Opinion

“One Jerk Republican” Steps Aside and Eric Fanning is Confirmed as Army Secretary

Linda Pentz
Written by Linda Pentz

The eminently qualified and highly charismatic Eric Fanning has finally been confirmed as Army Secretary, gaining the full approval of the Senate late Tuesday. The vote makes Fanning the first openly gay service secretary.

Perhaps this long-awaited outcome is all down to one octogenarian five-foot firebrand. After all, it was Edie Windsor who firmly pointed the finger of blame for the long delay in Fanning’s appointment at “one jerk Republican” during her remarks at the May 7 American Military Partners Association (AMPA) National Gala.

The “Republican jerk” in question was Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) who had put a hold on Fanning’s confirmation despite Fanning having already received bi-partisan approval from the Senate Armed Services Committee which voted to advance his appointment.

Roberts insisted he stood in the way only to get an assurance from the White House that any inmates released from Guantanamo will not be transferred to his state, and in particular to Ft. Leavenworth. This was apparently forthcoming, resulting in Roberts standing down on Tuesday.

Windsor is best known for her landmark 2013 legal victory in United States vs. Windsor, in which the U.S. Supreme Court rendered as unconstitutional the restriction of federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual couples under Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Her victory was embraced by AMPA and many LGBT veterans because it allowed the U.S. Department of Defense to recognize the same-sex spouses of LGBT service members and extend to them all the same benefits already enjoyed by heterosexual military couples. (AMPA is the nation’s largest resource and support network for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender service members and veterans.)

Windsor, still feisty at 86, was one of four recipients of AMPA’s 2016 National Equality Award. (The others were Jim Obergefell, lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and Thom Kostura and Ijpe DeKoe, also plaintiffs in Obergefell.) Fanning was the evening’s keynote speaker.

Before the evening’s proceedings, I talked to Fanning about the protracted and frustrating delay in his confirmation. Looking at Roberts’ record on LGBT rights — he rates a zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional scorecard — it was easy to assume that the Guantanamo argument was just a giant red herring. Roberts is a longtime opponent of marriage equality and voted against the inclusion of sexual orientation under the definition of a hate crime.

But Fanning insisted then that Robert’s objection “really is about Guantanamo.” Fanning reminded me that Roberts “pulled the same move on John McHugh,” recalling Obama‘s 2009 nominee for Army Secretary. McHugh was eventually appointed and served in the job for six years.

Fanning said Roberts “did not know who I was,” when his nomination came up, reinforcing his conviction that the Senator’s move was purely political and not rooted in homophobia. All the same, during his speech Fanning could not resist inviting the indomitable Windsor to “please be my confirmation campaign manager.” Maybe she took him at his word. Because the job is now done.