President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration is reportedly throwing in the towel before breaking a sweat — all because he couldn’t handle criticism from Republican scrutineers.
Reuters reported that Phil Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport, is withdrawing his nomination to serve as FAA administrator.
This decision comes after the Senate Commerce Committee postponed its vote on Biden’s nominee, which was originally scheduled for March 29. Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) indicated the vote was delayed in order that senators’ requests for further information could first be satisfied, reported CBS News.
While Democrats are up by one member on the committee, 14-13, Cantwell and other Democrats who support Washington are aware that a single independent mind could block his confirmation.
Jon Tester (D-Mont.), for instance, did not indicate how he would have voted. “I don’t know that we’re even [going to] vote on him, so I didn’t even have to take a stand,” said Tester.
One source told Reuters that “an onslaught of unfounded Republican attacks on Mr. Washington’s service and experience irresponsibly delayed this process, threatened unnecessary procedural hurdles on the Senate floor, and ultimately have led him to withdraw his nomination today.”
Senate Democrats similarly denounced Republican efforts to ensure that only the most qualified candidate gets the job.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called the Republican holdup a “hatchet job,” reported CNN.
“Instead of moving quickly to confirm the president’s nominee, Republicans and their allies have tried to delay Mr. Washington’s job by attacking him, throwing everything they have to try and stop a qualified nominee, and in doing so they are smearing a longtime public servant,” added Schatz.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre similarly believed that Washington “has the qualifications” for the role.
“He has led the Denver International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, managed a large transportation-safety organization, has served as a command sergeant major in the military. This is a role with a key safety mandate,” said Jean-Pierre.
The New York Times noted that while Washington is a 24-year Army veteran who has been at the helm of the Denver International Airport since 2021, much of his career wasn’t focused on the sky but rather on ground transport.
Washington’s dearth of aviation experience prompted some Republicans to question his suitability for the role.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) noted Washington’s “lack of experience in aviation,” adding, “This position requires extensive knowledge of the industry in order to ensure the safety and efficiency of the agency and American air travel.”
“The FAA has been in the news far too often lately — from the software meltdown of a crucial safety system in January that resulted in the first U.S. ground-stop of aircraft since 9/11 to recent numerous near-misses of airliners on runways,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a March 21 statement. “These incidents are a stark reminder of why it’s essential to have an FAA Administrator with decades of deep and real aviation experience, especially in aviation safety.”
“This is not a patronage job, this is an aviation safety job,” Cruz pointed out.
“It is frankly irresponsible to entrust the role of protecting millions of Americans who fly in the hands of a person who needs on-the-job training. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we have with President Biden’s FAA nominee, Phil Washington,” added Cruz.
Cruz told Washington in person, “I believe your record is woefully lacking. … And in fact, you have zero aviation experience. And I don’t believe you’ll have the votes for confirmation.”
Independent Sen. Kirsten Sinema (Ariz.) similarly noted that Washington has “less experience in aviation.”
“Aviation experience, as you know, is important to this position. And as you know, the federal law listing the requirements for the FAA administrator states the nominee must have experience in a field directly related to aviation,” said the former Democrat.
Extra to Washington’s apparent inexperience, Republicans also raised the matter of his entanglement in a corruption case.
While dealing with bus routes and rail lines, Washington got caught up in a scandal concerning how the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded contracts.
A search warrant executed in September cited allegations from a whistleblower that, as CEO of the transit authority, Washington had “pushed forward” sole sourcing for a contract (for a sexual harassment hotline) to the nonprofit Peace Over Violence. The alleged purpose of this favoritism: “to remain ‘in good graces'” with one of Washington’s direct supervisors, reported CNN.
According to the warrant, “The Witness further stated that Phillip Washington told her directly, that he would rather pay the $75,000, so he could later use that to his advantage when he needed a political favor from … [county supervisor and Metro board member] Kuehl.”
Washington maintains that the allegations against him are false.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg confirmed that Washington gave up early, tweeting, “The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service.”
WATCH LIVE: Senate confirmation hearing for Phillip Washington as FAA administrator
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