Obama Taps Rep. McHugh for Secretary of Army

Posted June 2, 2009 at 9:04am

Updated: 1:45 p.m.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced his selection of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, to serve as secretary of the Army.

“John is a distinguished public servant who will help keep us safe and keep our sacred trust with our soldiers and their families,— President Barack Obama said at the White House. “And John shares my belief that a sustainable national security strategy must include a bipartisan consensus at home, and he brings patriotism and a pragmatism that has won him respect on both sides of the aisle. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.—

In remarks laden with emotion, McHugh thanked his family and said after growing up near Fort Drum in New York, the “Army had a special place in my heart.—

“I’m enormously moved and deeply proud of this nomination,— he said.

He described his years on the Armed Services Committee fondly and called the committee “the most productive, the most responsible and, frankly, the most fun— in the House.

McHugh called himself “the latest in a growing line— of individuals of different backgrounds and political persuasions to be given a chance by Obama to serve in his administration.

McHugh’s departure from the Armed Services Committee could set off a race within the Republican Conference to replace him as the top Republican.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas) is thought to be the favorite to replace McHugh as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, according to several House GOP sources.

However, Thornberry is only the third-most-senior Republican on the panel after Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (Md.) and Howard McKeon (Calif.).

McKeon, who currently serves as the ranking member on the Education and Labor Committee, is also giving the position serious thought, according to his spokeswoman.

Bartlett and Thornberry ran in 2008 to replace retired Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) as the ranking member of Armed Services. But both where passed over by the Republican Steering Committee in favor of McHugh.

Thornberry’s spokesman George Rasley said that Thornberry was interested in the post.

“Anytime a vacancy like this occurs, you have to explore the opportunities,— Rasley said. “This isn’t something you campaign for on the front page of the newspaper.—

A meeting of the 28-member House Republican Steering Committee has yet to be scheduled, according to GOP sources.

McHugh’s departure is certain to set off another close special House election in New York. While McHugh won re-election with 65 percent of the vote, Obama defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the upstate 23rd district, 52 to 47 percent.

While Democrats have never taken a serious run at McHugh, they have long felt that the district would be ripe for the picking whenever he moved on.

Their biggest recruiting problem, however, may be linked to Democrats’ tenuous hold on the state Senate in New York. Chances are national Democrats will try to persuade state Sen. Darrel Aubertine (D) to run in a special Congressional election. But if he wins, his state Senate seat is at serious risk of flipping to the Republicans, and that’s a risk New York Democrats may not want to take given their 32-30 seat advantage in the state Senate.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.