President Barack Obama touted Ashton Carter’s “unique blend of strategic and technological know-how” and 30 years of government experience while formally nominating Carter for secretary of defense Friday. The president said Carter, who served under 11 secretaries of defense, was unafraid to cancel outdated and inefficient weapons programs in order to scale back the Defense Department’s bloated budget.
“Ash is rightly regarded as one of our nation’s foremost national security leaders,” Obama said during a news conference at the White House with Carter and Vice President Joe Biden by his side. Notably absent was outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, although the White House said Thursday he would be attending the event. Hagel, who resigned under pressure from Obama, said he would step down once his replacement is confirmed by the Senate.
Obama urged the new Congress, which convenes in January and will be controlled by Republicans, to confirm Carter’s nomination. The president said Carter would have been confirmed “swiftly” by the Senate under Democratic control.
“My hope is that in the new Congress, we get similar dispatch and speed,” Obama said, noting that Carter had been confirmed by the Senate three previous times while serving in the Defense Department.
Finding a defense secretary nominee wasn’t an easy task for the Obama administration, with two names being floated for the job, ex-Undersecretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., quickly bowing out of contention. Serving a lame-duck president with only two years left in his term makes the job less attractive, and Carter will have a challenge balancing the crisis in Ukraine, and Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
“I accepted the president’s offer … because of my regard for his leadership … because of the seriousness of the strategic challenges we face, but also the right opportunities that exist for America if we can come together to grab hold of them,” Carter said.
He also pledged Obama to “give you my most candid strategic advice,” a reference to critics of the administration who said the president wanted a yes-man as defense secretary.