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Senate confirms Wormuth, again, as first female Army secretary

Defense Undersecretary for Policy Christine Wormuth. (Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images/TNS)

After a night that saw the Senate confirm her nomination, only to un-confirm her hours later, Christine Wormuth was confirmed for the second time on Thursday, becoming the first woman to serve as Army secretary.

The Senate approved Wormuth’s nomination by unanimous consent Thursday morning, repeating the same step it took late Wednesday evening. But in between, the Senate vitiated Wormuth’s confirmation, undoing its previous action by unanimous consent.

By all accounts, this was more of a procedural snafu than a substantive objection to Wormuth’s confirmation. Wormuth, who served as the Pentagon’s policy chief during the Obama administration, earned broad bipartisan support during her May 13 confirmation hearing and appeared on track for a smooth, quick confirmation.

Earlier this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee advanced her nomination by voice vote, with Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., abstaining. During Wormuth’s confirmation hearing, Cramer had raised the issue of a constituent, a major with a family of four, who had been underpaid by more than $50,000 and had been dealing with red tape for more than 10 months.

Cramer didn’t explicitly threaten to hold up Wormuth’s nomination, but he did say that he wanted the issue resolved quickly. And Cramer’s office did not respond to questions about whether he was the one to force a second vote on Wormuth’s confirmation.

“On June 1, [if] the soldier still doesn’t have his back pay, then I’m … then I’m going to be concerned,” he said at the confirmation hearing.

Wormuth indicated that she was aware of the situation and believed the Army would straighten things out soon.

“This situation, frankly, is totally unacceptable,” she said. “We can’t have situations where we’re not paying our soldiers the money that they earn for 10 months.”

It is rare, but not unprecedented, for the Senate to undo its own action. Under Senate rules, the Senate has wide latitude to proceed as it chooses, so long as the entire body agrees to it.

For example, on Dec. 5, 2016, the Senate undid several steps it had taken earlier that day, which included measures approving certain leases at military arsenals and renaming a handful of post offices.

Still, the unusual step of walking back a confirmation added drama to an otherwise routine proceeding. Reporters and news outlets scrambled late last night to update already published stories about Wormuth’s historic confirmation.

With that out of the way, Wormuth will now lead a service that faces its share of challenges, many of which have attracted considerable congressional attention.

A long-standing epidemic of sexual assault, highlighted by the brutal killing of Spc. Vanessa Guillén at Fort Hood in 2020; substandard housing; recruitment and retention shortfalls; and extremism within the ranks remain pressing issues for the service.

The Army is also trying to modernize its weapons and equipment, much of which is several decades old. The service, like many other parts of the Defense Department, faces constrained budgets, as the White House has indicated it does not intend to give the Pentagon a big funding increase.

The Biden administration is expected to release its full budget request for fiscal 2022 on Friday.

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