President Biden suffered a major setback over the weekend after his nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration withdrew from consideration amid pushback from Senate Republicans and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington was unable to advance from a Senate committee despite Democrats controlling the chamber.
Republicans cited concerns that he was “unqualified” because he lacks aviation experience.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg described the opposition as “partisan attacks and procedural obstruction” in a tweet over the weekend, confirming that Mr. Washington withdrew his name from consideration to run the FAA.
The aviation industry has been under scrutiny in recent months following several transportation woes, including travel mayhem from canceled flights.
“The FAA has a $24 billion budget, about 45,000 employees and the responsibility to oversee the most complex aviation system in the world,” Ms. Sinema said at a recent congressional hearing. “Aviation experience is important for this position, and the federal law listing the requirements for the FAA administrator states the ‘nominee must have experience in a field directly related to aviation.’”
The FAA has been absent a permanent commissioner for a year.
Mr. Washington marks the second nominee this month who had to withdraw his name from consideration. Former Federal Communications Commission member Gigi Sohn withdrew her nomination to run the FCC earlier in March.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat and chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, recently defended Mr. Biden’s choice of Mr. Washington to head the FAA.
“We will have this debate in the future,” Ms. Cantwell said. “Mr. Washington is qualified. He has the support of other former heads of the FAA who also were not pilots.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the top Republican on the panel, noted that the FAA commissioner is a “specialized, technical job,“ and that Mr. Washington “has never flown a plane, he was never a military pilot.”
Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who faces reelection in 2024, is also a member of the panel and was reportedly undecided on advancing Mr. Washington.
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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