Obama Taps Republican Lawmaker John McHugh to Be Army Secretary

President Obama announces his nomination of Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.). McHugh is the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
President Obama announces his nomination of Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.). McHugh is the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. (By Brendan Smialowski -- Getty Images)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

President Obama announced his intention to nominate Rep. John M. McHugh (R-N.Y.) as secretary of the Army yesterday, saying his 16 years of service on the House Armed Services Committee "uniquely qualifies him to help lead America's Army."

If confirmed, McHugh would be the third Republican appointed to a senior position in the Obama administration: Former congressman Ray LaHood (Ill.) is the transportation secretary, and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was recently named ambassador to China. Another Republican, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, is a holdover from the Bush administration. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) was chosen by Obama to be the commerce secretary, but in February he pulled his name from consideration, citing irreconcilable differences with the administration.

McHugh's nomination marks the second consecutive time a president has gone outside his party to choose an Army secretary. In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Democrat Peter Geren to the post after a scandal involving the treatment of veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"John understands personally and deeply the sacrifices that our soldiers and their families make every day," Obama said. He added: "As secretary of the Army, he will ensure that our soldiers are trained and equipped to meet the full spectrum of challenges and threats of our time -- the conventional and the unconventional, the nation state and the terrorist network."

In remarks after the president's, McHugh, who served on the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and whose Upstate district includes Fort Drum, also noted his personal connections to the Army. "I grew up in the shadows of Fort Drum. For the last 20 years, I've worked in concert with those men and women of the communities around that great facility in support of the men and women of the 10th Mountain Division," McHugh said. "The Army has always had a special place in my heart, and, Mr. President, that's why I so deeply appreciate this nomination."

McHugh has served in Congress since 1993 and is the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. He is also one of the few Republicans in the Northeast to have survived the past two election cycles, and he did so decisively, winning 63 percent of the vote in 2006 and 65 percent in 2008.

But Republicans may encounter difficulty in holding the seat in a special election. Obama carried the 23rd District 52 percent to 47 percent over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

McHugh's district includes the far northern regions of Upstate New York. With New York slated to lose one (or even two) congressional districts in the next round of redistricting, the 23rd may cease to exist in a few years.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company