FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2016, file photo, Army Secretary Eric Fanning speaks during a groundbreaking for the new U.S. Army Cyber Command Complex at Fort Gordon, Ga. Fanning, who served as Army secretary from 2016 to 2017, says he’s supporting Joe Biden for president, the latest endorsement from a former military leader who had criticized President Donald Trump over his handling of anti-racism demonstrations. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, FIle)

Former Army secretary backs Biden, citing ‘moral leadership’

June 17, 2020 - 8:02 am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first openly gay Army secretary says he’s supporting Joe Biden for president, the latest endorsement from a former military leader who had criticized President Donald Trump over his handling of anti-racism demonstrations.

Eric Fanning, who held a variety of Navy and Air Force civilian positions and was Army secretary from 2016 to 2017, on Wednesday cited Biden’s “empathy” and “integrity” in engaging with members of the military.

“The next president faces a monumental task: repairing our damaged democracy and our eroded moral leadership around the world,” Fanning said in his announcement. “I know Vice President Biden will be a commander in chief who leads the world’s greatest military by upholding its values.”

Fanning pointed to Biden’s early support of gays and lesbians, including guiding repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that allowed them to serve openly in the armed forces. He recounted Biden’s commencement speech at West Point four years ago and how the former vice president saluted class president and First Captain E.J. Coleman, who had recently come out as gay.

“Joe Biden’s leadership in steering repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ ensured that E.J. and thousands like him over the past decade were never forced to live a lie in order to serve the country they love,” he said.

Fanning is among 89 former senior defense officials who recently signed an op-ed to voice opposition to Trump's threatened use of active-duty troops to quell protests over George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police.

Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed Biden last week. Others, including former defense secretary Jim Mattis, have criticized Trump’s leadership. Retired military leaders typically are guarded in expressing private political views.

Trump, a Republican, has faced increased strain with the Pentagon over concerns about politicizing the military, with both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, distancing themselves from the president over the protests.

Biden clinched the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this month.

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