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Political Notebook

Panetta a 100-0 pick for Pentagon

RINGING UP CAUSE FOR SOLDIERS — Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, cofounders in 2004 of Cell Phones for Soldiers, attended the Jefferson Awards for Public Service at the National Building Museum in Washington yesterday. Brittany Bergquist, of Norwell, said she hopes the publicity will help the group offer more free phone calls to soldiers. The awards, now in their 39th year, were cofounded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and are named for Thomas Jefferson. RINGING UP CAUSE FOR SOLDIERS — Brittany and Robbie Bergquist, cofounders in 2004 of Cell Phones for Soldiers, attended the Jefferson Awards for Public Service at the National Building Museum in Washington yesterday. Brittany Bergquist, of Norwell, said she hopes the publicity will help the group offer more free phone calls to soldiers. The awards, now in their 39th year, were cofounded by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and are named for Thomas Jefferson. (Cliff Owen/ Associated Press)
Associated Press / June 22, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously approved the nomination of Leon Panetta to be the next Pentagon chief yesterday, handing him a crowded agenda of overseeing the drawdown of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, tamping down congressional unrest over the Libyan conflict, and cutting the budget.

Panetta will replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring June 30 after 4 1/2 years on the job during the administrations of Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama.

Panetta, the CIA director during the successful operation to kill terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, received strong bipartisan praise as well as a 100-0 vote.

“Just a home-run choice,’’ said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “The president made a very wise decision.’’

In a statement, Panetta thanked the Senate for its strong vote of confidence and promised to ensure that the United States maintains the strongest military in the world.

Panetta, 72, a former congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee, onetime director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff, faces several high-stakes assignments, starting with Obama’s initial withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan this summer. American troops also are slated to leave Iraq by year’s end.

Also, Gates has indicated that he’s likely to certify that gays can serve openly in the military, implementing the new policy.

Obama has called for some $400 billion in cuts over the next 12 years amid intense budget pressures, a certain test of Panetta’s skills. “He is the most qualified individual to tackle the huge budgetary issues,’’ said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat from Rhode Island.

Obama Commerce nominee raps NLRB on Boeing move
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s pick to head the Commerce Department criticized a federal lawsuit against the Boeing Co. yesterday over the aerospace giant’s decision to locate a plant in South Carolina.

The nominee, John Bryson, recently stepped down from Boeing’s board.

Bryson’s comments came at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on his nomination to succeed Gary Locke, whom Obama has nominated to become ambassador to China.

The National Labor Relations Board has accused Boeing of opening a plant in South Carolina in retaliation against union workers in Washington state, who went on strike in 2008.

At the hearing, Republican senators complained about the NLRB suit.

Bryson said that he believed the suit was “not the right judgment” and that he was surprised by the NLRB’s suit. He said Boeing officials believed they were doing the right thing when they picked South Carolina for their assembly line.

Top 2 Gingrich fund-raisers latest to resign from staff
ATLANTA — Newt Gingrich’s top two fund-raising advisers resigned yesterday, and officials said the Republican candidate’s hobbling presidential campaign carried more than $1 million in debt.

The departures of fund-raising director Jody Thomas and consultant Mary Heitman were the latest blow for the former House speaker, who watched 16 top advisers abandon his campaign en masse earlier this month.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the campaign inner workings, some people familiar with the campaign said the former Georgia lawmaker racked up massive travel bills but money had only trickled in since he got into the race earlier this spring.

These officials said that he is at least $1 million in debt. The current fund-raising quarter ends June 30, and Gingrich will have to disclose his campaign finances by July 15. He is personally wealthy and could fund his campaign out of his own pocket, at least in the short term, to keep his campaign afloat.

Gingrich has insisted that he will not abandon his troubled bid and will continue fighting for the Republican nomination for president “no matter what it takes.’’

Heitman, a former fund-raiser with the Republican National Committee, declined to comment. Thomas did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Reid, a fellow Mormon, slams Romney candidacy
WASHINGTON — The top elected Mormon in the Democratic Party said the country is not ready for fellow Mormon Mitt Romney as the Republicans’ presidential nominee.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid told reporters yesterday that Romney “doesn’t know who he is.’’ Reid stated that Romney supported gay marriage and favored abortion rights when he was governor of Massachusetts but now opposes them. He also credited Romney’s health care overhaul in Massachusetts for being the model for the Democrats’ national plan. If someone isn’t confident in his beliefs, Reid said, he should not be running for president.

However, the Senate majority leader misstated Romney’s support of gay marriage, saying the Republican backed gay marriage as governor of Massachusetts. In fact, Romney did not, although Romney did say during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race that he would be stronger on gay rights than his opponent, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

A Romney spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, declined to respond to the comments.