FAA nominee Phillip Washington withdraws on Sinema holdout

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President Joe Biden’s option to run the Federal Aviation Administration has withdrawn his nomination, a setback for the administration that comes after Denver Worldwide Airport CEO Phillip Washington appeared to lack sufficient help within the intently divided Senate.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed Washington’s withdrawal in a tweet Saturday evening, calling him “a superb nominee” and blaming undeserved and partisan assaults.

Republicans have been united in opposition to Washington, calling him unqualified due to restricted aviation expertise. Democrats and allied independents nonetheless might need pushed the nomination via, however key senators on their facet balked at supporting Biden’s decide.

Washington’s destiny appeared settled when Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., abruptly known as off a scheduled vote final Wednesday — an indication that she lacked sufficient votes to maneuver the nomination out of committee. She mentioned some senators needed extra details about Washington.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who was a Democrat till switching to impartial in December, and average Democrat Jon Tester of Montana declined to say how they’d have voted. An individual aware of the matter advised The Related Press that Sinema was holding up the nomination and had indicated her opposition. The individual was not approved to debate the method publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Earlier than the White Home publicizes a brand new nominee, it doubtless will need assurances of help from Sinema, Tester and different moderates.

The FAA has lacked a Senate-confirmed administrator since March 2022. The company is making an attempt to reassure Individuals that air journey is protected regardless of a surge in shut calls between planes this 12 months. Additionally it is battling getting older expertise that failed in January, briefly canceling all takeoffs across the nation. And it’s nonetheless making an attempt to restore its popularity after approving Boeing planes that crashed in 2018 and 2019.

“The FAA wants a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & navy expertise made him a superb nominee,” Buttigieg tweeted Saturday evening. “The partisan assaults and procedural obstruction he has confronted are undeserved, however I respect his choice to withdraw and am grateful for his service.”

Washington ran transit companies in Denver and Los Angeles, however his solely aviation-related expertise is serving as CEO of the Denver airport for lower than two years. He has robust ties to the administration, nonetheless — he led Biden’s 2020 transition workforce for the Transportation Division, which incorporates the FAA.

Biden nominated Washington final July, however he didn’t get a committee listening to for eight months. Republicans attacked his resume and seized on disclosures that his identify appeared in search warrants associated to a corruption investigation in Los Angeles. Washington mentioned he did nothing unsuitable and had not been contacted by regulation enforcement.

The company is being led by an appearing administrator, Billy Nolen, a pilot who has held security jobs at three airways and the FAA. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who led opposition to Washington, mentioned Nolen may win bipartisan help.

In an announcement Saturday evening, Cruz mentioned Washington’s lack of crucial expertise was apparent.

“Given the numerous challenges dealing with the FAA, this wasn’t the time for an administrator who wanted on-the-job coaching,” he mentioned. “The Biden administration should now shortly identify somebody to move the FAA who has an in depth aviation background, can earn widespread bipartisan help within the Senate, and can hold the flying public protected.”


Koenig reported from Dallas. Related Press author Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.

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