New Army secretary Christine Wormuth can breathe a sigh of relief after the Senate confirmed her via unanimous consent Thursday morning. She is the first woman in U.S. history to ascend to the Army’s top civilian post.
The Senate appeared to have confirmed her Wednesday night — until the body reversed her confirmation just hours later in an unusual development.
CSPAN footage of the proceedings showed Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announcing the reversal. Schumer’s staff did not immediately respond to a request for clarification from Army Times, and the senator deleted a previous tweet hailing Wormuth’s confirmation.
Wormuth had already acknowledged her confirmation online Wednesday evening, saying she was “so honored to be confirmed as Secretary of the Army” in response to a friend’s tweet. Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston had also shared his congratulations with his new civilian boss as well.
Wormuth faces difficult decisions from her first week onward, with the service bracing for potential cuts in the fiscal year 2021 budget. President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to release its official budget request this week.
Wormuth, who most recently was the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand, had a deep background in defense policy work and public service. She also was a member of the Biden administration’s Pentagon transition team.
She served as undersecretary of defense for policy — the Pentagon’s top policy role — from 2014 to 2016 during the Obama administration. That stint came on the heels of a series of roles in the administration, including two years as deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development.
Wormuth, along with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, is one of the most prominent faces in the Biden administration’s efforts to increase the number of qualified women in top national security positions.
National security professionals praised Wormuth and her abilities when they spoke with Defense News in April.
“Her policy background may be particularly helpful in connecting the Army to broader national security goals. That’s important because many strategists are looking to cut the Army as a bill payer for maritime and aerospace initiatives,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program. “However, she will need to gain the Army’s trust because she has no particular connection with the Army, unlike the Army secretaries during the Trump years who had deep roots in the Army.”
As a new service secretary without experience in Congress or in uniform, she may have a bit of a learning curve, said another expert.
“As Secretary of the Army she will be expected to do three main things: be an effective communicator about the value of land power, to forge an effective relationship with Congress, and to lead change in the Army,” said Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.
“Since Ms. Wormuth does not have experience working in Congress or directly with land power, she will need to continue to develop those aspects,” Spoehr added.
Defense News reporters Jen Judson and Aaron Mehta contributed reporting to this story.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect changes Thursday morning, after Christine Wormuth’s initial confirmation was reversed late Wednesday night for reasons that were not made immediately clear.