The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday sharply criticized a colleague's months-long hold on the nominee to be the next Army secretary, calling it a foolish abuse of power.

"What we're doing here is we're telling a nominee, who is totally qualified, totally, eminently qualified for the job, that that person cannot fulfill those responsibilities and take on that very important leadership post because of an unrelated issue," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "That is not the appropriate use of senatorial privilege."

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS)

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The remarks came during an angry exchange on the Senate floor between McCain and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who for months has blocked the confirmation of Eric Fanning to take over the top Army post.

Roberts has said the move has nothing to do with Fanning's qualifications, but instead with White House research into using Fort Leavenworth in his home state as a potential relocation site for detainees from Naval Base Guantanamo Bay.

He said he would "gladly release this hold immediately" if administration officials will agree to drop the idea.

"We just had a conversation with the White House this morning in the hopes that this could be worked out," he told McCain. "The White House simply would not give me that assurance."

McCain compared Robert's move to "shooting a hostage."

"If a plan came forward that contained the movement of the detainees to Fort Leavenworth … then the United States Senate would say no," he said. "So unfortunately here we have seen the senator from Kansas take a nominee who is fully qualified in every aspect … and hold him hostage to an action that he has no ability to take."

Eric Fanning

Photo Credit: John G. Martinez/Army

The armed services committee asked him to reconsider the move during the Senate's upcoming week-long recess.

Roberts offered no sign of changing his mind, and suggested maybe the administration should consider shifting Fanning's nomination to the secretary of the Navy post instead. The current secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced his plans to step down last month.

Patrick Murphy, confirmed by the Senate as assistant Army secretary, has served as the acting Army secretary during the Fanning delay.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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