The White House offered high praise but refused Tuesday to confirm multiple reports that Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is President Obama’s choice to replace his recently ousted boss Chuck Hagel as head of the Pentagon.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest stopped short of saying the veteran defense official was the choice, but volunteered that Mr. Carter had served “very ably” as deputy secretary and possessed a “detailed understanding” of the Pentagon.
“He is somebody who did serve the president and the American people well,” Mr. Earnest said. He added that the Senate confirmed him for the previous Pentagon post by unanimous consent, saying Mr. Carter “certainly deserves and has demonstrated strong bipartisan support.”
Mr. Carter’s deep familiarity with the Pentagon bureaucracy and his support on Capitol Hill have made him the clear front-runner for the job. Even Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and frequent critic of the administration, said in a statement Tuesday, “I can’t imagine that he’s going to have opposition to his confirmation.”
But along with a deep resume, the 60-year-old Pennsylvania native would bring some baggage to the job: Mr. Carter needed a special waiver to join the Pentagon back in 2009 because of his history of work in the defense contracting industry, one of more than 40 high-ranking political appointees the Obama administration given a waiver to allow them to serve in government in spite of the president’s promise to halt the revolving door between federal employees and special-interest groups.
The Washington Times reported in 2011 that Mr. Carter received almost as much money from defense consulting work as he did from Harvard University before he joined the Obama administration in 2009 as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Two years later, the White House promoted him to deputy secretary.
While teaching at Harvard, he earned $238,235 from Jan. 1, 2008, through March 18, 2009, when he signed a financial disclosure before joining the Pentagon. Over the same period, he received $65,000 from the Mitre Corp., which manages federally funded research and development centers and consults for the Defense Department, and more than $100,000 from Global Technology Partners, a defense consulting firm founded by William J. Perry, who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration.
Mr. Carter also reported earning $20,000 in consulting fees from Goldman Sachs, and he received $10,000 from Raytheon for what was described on Mr. Carter’s ethics form as “meeting fee and memoranda.”
In 2011, a White House spokeswoman said Mr. Carter had recused himself for two years from participating in matters involving Harvard because he resigned his tenured position there in 2011.
Mr. Carter’s long association with the Obama administration could prove at least a small hurdle to a smooth Senate confirmation. If confirmed, he would be Mr. Obama’s fourth Pentagon chief in six years, following Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Mr. Hagel — all of whom had their differences with Mr. Obama and White House staffers.
Sen. Ted Cruz blasted the Obama administration for the turnover in the position.
“It seems what the administration is looking for is a defense secretary who will follow the orders of the political White House rather than focus on defending the national security interests” of this country, the Texas Republican said at a foreign policy event hosted by Concerned Veterans for America and The Weekly Standard.
Mr. Cruz did say he is committed to looking at his record and giving him a fair consideration.
“I will say this: it was disquieting to see person after person pull their name out of consideration for the secretary of defense,” Mr. Cruz said. “It says something that so many people are saying no thank you, I don’t want to serve as secretary of defense in an administration that overrides the Defense Department, that treats the secretary as subservient to political lackeys in the White House.”
• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.