President Joe Biden s choice to run the Federal Aviation Administration has withdrawn his nomination, a setback for the administration after the CEO of Denver International Airport Phillip Washington seemed to lack enough support in the closely divided Senate.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed Washington s withdrawal in a tweet Saturday night, calling him an excellent nominee and blaming undeserved and partisan attacks.
Republicans opposed to Washington, calling him unqualified because of his limited aviation experience. While Democrats and allied independents still might have pushed the nomination through, key senators on their side balked at supporting Biden's pick.
Washington s fate appeared to be settled when Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. called off a scheduled vote last Wednesday, showing that she didn't have enough votes to move the nomination out of committee. She said some senators wanted more information about Washington.
The Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who was a Democrat until he switched to independent in December, and moderate Democrat Jon Tester of Montana didn't say how they would have voted. A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that Sinema was holding up the nomination and had indicated her opposition. The person was not authorized to discuss the process publicly and insisted on anonymity.
Before the White House announces a new nominee, it will most likely want assurances of support from Sinema, Tester and other moderates.
The FAA hasn't had a Senate confirmation since March 2022. The agency is trying to assure Americans that air travel is safe despite a surge in close calls between planes this year. It is struggling with aging technology that failed in January, cancelling all takeoffs around the country. It is still trying to repair its reputation after approving Boeing planes that crashed in 2018 and 2019.
The FAA needs a confirmed administrator, and Phil Washington's transportation experience made him an excellent nominee, Buttigieg tweeted Saturday night. The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service. Washington ran transit agencies in Denver and Los Angeles, but his only aviation-related experience is serving as CEO of the Denver airport for less than two years. He has strong ties to the administration, and he led Biden's 2020 transition team for the Transportation Department, which includes the FAA.
Biden was nominated for a committee seat in July, but he didn't get a hearing for eight months. The Republicans attacked his resume and seized the disclosure that his name appeared in search warrants related to a corruption investigation in Los Angeles. Washington said he did nothing wrong and had not been contacted by law enforcement.
The agency is led by an acting administrator, Billy Nolen, a FAA pilot who has held safety positions at three airlines and the FAA. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who led opposition to Washington, said Nolen could win bipartisan support.
Cruz said Washington's lack of necessary experience was obvious in a statement on Saturday night.
This wasn't a good time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training, given the significant challenges facing the FAA, he said. The Biden administration must quickly name someone who will head the FAA who has an extensive aviation background, can earn bipartisan support in the Senate, and will keep the flying public safe.