President Obama on Tuesday nominated Republican Rep. John M. McHugh of New York to be secretary of the Army.
McHugh, 60, is a nine-term member of the House of Representatives and the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.
If confirmed by the Senate, McHugh would bolster the number of high-ranking Republicans in the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, whom Obama carried over from the Bush administration, is a registered independent but has said he considers himself a Republican.
McHugh’s selection would also set off a special election to fill his House seat, which represents a far-ranging district in upstate New York that stretches from Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence Seaway. The biggest city is Plattsburgh.
The district is home to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division -- the “most deployed” unit, Obama noted.
McHugh, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, did not serve in the armed forces, but he has been on the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Obama said the Army had carried a serious burden in the repeated deployment of forces to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said McHugh had been “a champion of men and women in uniform. . . . As secretary of the Army, he will ensure that our soldiers are trained and equipped to meet the challenges of the time.”
“At the same time, John knows that we must reform the way the Army and the Pentagon do business,” Obama said. “As secretary, he will help lead our efforts to save taxpayers billions of dollars and equip our soldiers with the weapons they need.”
For all the differences between parties in Congress, McHugh said, “at the end of the day . . . Republicans and Democrats alike have put aside those differences and worked for the common good” when it comes to support of the military.
“I grew up in the shadows of Ft. Drum,” said McHugh, whose father served in the Army. “The Army’s always had a special place in my heart.”
Obama, who has vowed to reach across party lines, has placed relatively few Republicans in high-level positions.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who had retired as a congressman from Peoria, Ill., is a Republican. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) at first accepted and then rejected Obama’s appointment as Commerce secretary.
Obama carried McHugh’s congressional district by 5 percentage points last year. Former President George W. Bush carried the same district by 4 percentage points in 2004.
McHugh has been rated as a moderate on key votes in the House, according to the National Journal’s rankings.
He is a graduate of Utica College of Syracuse University. He also has a master’s degree in public administration from the State University of New York at Albany.