Senate Approves Ashton Carter as Defense Secretary

Senate Approves Ashton Carter as Defense Secretary
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The Senate on Thursday voted by an overwhelming margin to confirm Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

The 93-5 vote comes as little surprise, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have lauded Carter's experience and background and praised him as a good choice to take over for Hagel, who announced his retirement last November. The Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week voted unanimously to send Carter to the full Senate for approval. He is expected to be sworn in next week.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the committee, praised Carter for his experience and for his stance on a number of key defense questions that came up during his nomination hearing. Carter spoke at that hearing about the need to get rid of the sequestration budget cuts and his support for providing weapons to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression – a position that put him at odds with President Obama.

“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 on the Senate floor before the vote. “I am hopeful about the prospects of working together with Dr. Carter, along with my colleagues in the Committee on Armed Services, 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.”

Five lawmakers, all Republican, voted against the nomination, including Sens. Roy Blunt, John Boozman, Mike Crapo, Mark Kirk and James Risch.

"Mine is a vote of no confidence in the national security decisions of this Administration,” Kirk said in a statement.

Carter, 60, has served in multiple roles in the Defense Department during the Obama administration, including deputy secretary of defense from 2011 until 2013. He also served in the department under President Bill Clinton. Carter earned a doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar, and served as chair of the International and Global Affairs faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Both Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid supported his nomination, although Reid did not vote because he is recovering from surgery.

“Dr. Carter’s background will make him an effective leader to confront the challenges and threats facing our nation, and I am pleased with the strong bipartisan vote in support of the president’s nomination,” Reid said in a statement.

McConnell’s support came with a single condition, which he named on the Senate floor Thursday morning: “The incoming secretary needs to have the courage to speak truth to power. To Congress, yes. But also to his commander in chief.” 

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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