The Senate has been dragging its feet on confirming some Pentagon nominees—and in some cases lawmakers have blocked certain individuals from moving forward—but Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Friday downplayed any friction between Congress and the department.
“We really need good people, and they deserve prompt hearings and civil treatment…In the large part they’ve gotten it, and they’ve gotten it throughout my long career,” he said during a breakfast meeting. “It does get hard late in an administration to be willing to walk down that road. So in that sense it becomes an issue. At the same time, we have a pretty deep bench.”
When asked whether the process had become more uncivil in recent months, Carter demurred.
“There are always ones where there are issues and debates and so forth that go on, but I wouldn’t say uncivil,” he said. “I understand the role of the Senate, I respect the role of the Senate. That is the way our system works. The best I can do is put forth really good people and then back them up and try to help them get through this process.”
During the Politico-hosted event, Carter announced that Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson had been nominated by the president as first female combatant commander. If confirmed, Robinson, who is currently the head of Pacific Air Forces, will lead U.S. Northern Command.
The defense secretary praised her managerial skills saying, “she had basically done the budget for the joint chiefs in years past.”
He also announced that Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, currently commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, had been tapped for the post of U.S. Forces Korea commander. Brooks would succeed Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti if confirmed.
In a few months’ time, Carter will have presented recommendations for every single senior four-star job within the department, including combatant commanders, the services chiefs and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Although the Senate has quickly moved military nominees through the confirmation process, civilian nominees have advanced more slowly. This week, Brad Carson, tapped for the post of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and already acting in that role, asked President Barack Obama to withdrawn his nomination after lawmakers harshly criticized his work on personnel reform efforts during a February confirmation hearing. The nominee for Army secretary, Eric Fanning, recently saw his nomination approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, but cannot be confirmed until Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) removes his hold.
“It’s an arduous process, and I understand that,” Carter said. “I don’t have any problem with that. People expect public officials to have undergone scrutiny.”