Ashton Carter sailed through the Senate confirmation process to become the new defense secretary, with his appointment being confirmed in a 93-5 vote Thursday.
Before the vote, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) spoke on the Senate floor, praising Carter as “one of America’s most experienced defense professionals, respected by Republicans and Democrats alike.”
“I think Dr. Carter will be a good secretary of defense, who will always keep faith with our men and women in uniform and work tirelessly on their behalf and that of our national security,” McCain said. “I am hopeful about the prospects of working together with Dr. Carter, along with my colleagues in the Senate Armed Services, on both sides of the aisle, to achieve our shared priorities, especially the reform of our defense acquisition system, the modernization of our military compensation system, and the repeal of sequestration.”
McCain ran through myriad global threats the country is facing, including “a revisionist Russia, a rising China, and radical Islamist groups,” as well as challenges at home such as rising personnel costs and sequestration.
“Dr. Carter is a worthy choice for secretary of defense. He has the experience, knowledge, and skill to succeed. The Armed Services Committee voted unanimously to approve his nomination last week, and I will gladly vote to confirm him today.”
SASC ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) also praised Carter in a floor speech, noting the major weapons programs Carter has already improved during his past assignments: he helped implement the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act in 2009, he helped restructure the Joint Strike Fighter program, he improved the contract for the Virginia-class submarines to allow two-a-year production that is on schedule and below cost targets, he helped get the Littoral Combat Ship back on track after seeing early cost overruns and production delays, and he helped bring competition to the KC-46A tanker’s development and production contract.
“Clearly not all of the problems with acquisition have been fixed, and the Defense Department can and should do more to streamline and improve the system, but I believe from what I’ve just indicated that Dr. Carter as secretary of Defense would do just that. He’s already demonstrated he can do it and he will do it,” Reed said.
Praise for Carter poured in after the vote. SASC member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, ““For the past 20 years, I have had the opportunity to observe and review Dr. Carter’s performance in the Department of Defense, and I find him to be a man of integrity and dedication to the U.S. military. He understands the mismatch we currently have between threats to U.S. national security and the resources needed to deter and defeat those threats. Dr. Carter has a great task ahead of him in working with Washington to end sequestration to the Defense Department and by providing leadership among our allies so we can effectively work together. With six years into this administration, we still have no coherent strategy to deter Russia, China, Iran, Islamic extremists and other terrorist groups, and we still have no overarching strategy to address an increasingly complex global threat landscape. I will be counting on Dr. Carter to help reverse this course and I expect him to provide candid and independent counsel to our nation’s Commander-in-Chief.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Carter “knows the Pentagon inside and out and is supremely qualified to advise the president on military policy.” And Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said, “through his decades of work in the Pentagon and on military policy, Ashton Carter has proven his dedication to protecting our national security.”
Of the five no votes, all from Republicans, at least two objections had nothing to do with Carter himself.
“Mine is a vote of no confidence in the national security decisions of this administration,” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wrote on his website shortly after the vote. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) wrote on Twitter, “After careful review, I have decided to oppose Pres Obama’s DoD & DoJ nominees. Unfortunately, I believe both will uphold his flawed agenda.”
The Pentagon said in a statement that Carter would be sworn in in the next few days and that current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would continue to perform his duties until Carter’s swearing-in ceremony.