President Obama has snatched another Republican for his administration. This time its New York Rep. John McHugh, ranking member on the armed services committee, nominated for army secretary.
"It is his service over the last 16 years in Congress as a champion of our men and women in uniform that uniquely qualifies him to help lead America's army. John understands personally and deeply the sacrifices that our soldiers and their families make every day," Obama said in the Diplomatic reception room at the White House. "John is committed to keeping America's army the best trained, the best equipped, the best led land force the world has ever seen."
McHugh joins Ray LaHood, whom Obama picked for Transportation Secretary, Defense Secretary and Bush holdover Robert Gates and China Ambassador nominee and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as Republicans who have crossed the aisle to join a Democrat administration.
"He hasn't agreed with every decision my administration has made," Obama said of McHugh. "But he brings patriotism and a pragmatism that has won him respect on both sides of the aisle."
Obama said McHugh's extensive experience on military affairs makes the nine-term congressman a perfect pick to be the top civilian in the Army. In addition to his work on the armed services committee, McHugh has served on the intelligence committee and the oversight and reform committee on the Hill.
"He knows that when we send our forces in harms way they need the best, most accurate intelligence to protect our soldiers and advance our interests," Obama said. "At the same time John knows we must reform the way the Pentagon and the army does business. … He will help lead our efforts to save taxpayers billions of dollars."
McHugh said he's deeply proud of the nomination.
"The army has always had a special place in my heart … I will do everything I possibly can to work in concert with the army leadership," McHugh said.
McHugh has served in Congress for 16 years — all of them on the House Armed Services Committee. Obama pointed out that McHugh's district includes Fort Drum, which is home to the 10th Mountain division, the "most deployed division" in the army.
If confirmed, McHugh's departure from the Congress would set up another special House election in a potentially competitive district for the second time this year.
McHugh represents New York’s 23rd congressional district upstate in the North Country. He was first elected to the House in 1992. He won with 63 percent of the vote in 2006 and 65 percent of the vote in 2008. But it is potentially a more competitive district than the support McHugh received as the incumbent might suggest.
One estimate (by swingstateproject.com) of the presidential vote in NY-23 in 2008 shows Obama beat McCain in the district by five points (52 percent to 47 percent). Four years earlier, George Bush won the district by four points (51 percent – 47 percent).
It is also unclear if this congressional district will outlast the next redistricting process when New York’s congressional delegation is expected to shrink in size.
At the very least, President Obama has once again picked off a Republican to join his team and created an opportunity for the Democrats.
– David Kerley, Jon Garcia and David Chalian