Senator lifts hold on Air Force nominee

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) on Thursday lifted her hold on Air Force secretary nominee Deborah Lee James, paving the way for her confirmation.

Ayotte spokeswoman Liz Johnson said the senator lifted her hold on James’s nomination after she received a second round of responses from the Air Force about potential cuts to the A-10 fleet.

Ayotte had placed the hold last month after the Air Force said it was considering cutting the entire A-10 fleet under sequestration because it was a single-mission plane.

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“The senator remains concerned that prematurely retiring the A-10 could put our troops at risk, and she will continue to engage with the Air Force and Pentagon officials in order to ensure our ground forces have the close air support they need to accomplish their missions and return home safely,” Johnson said.

“Sen. Ayotte supports Ms. James’s nomination and looks forward to working with her once she is confirmed.”

Ayotte had initially opted not to release her hold last week when the Air Force first sent its responses to her about the A-10. She said the Air Force’s answers were “inadequate” and requested follow-up responses.

At the time, Ayotte said she wasn’t asking for assurances the Air Force wouldn’t cut the A-10s, but wanted a better sense of the service’s plans so Congress could responds to them.

She has expressed concerns about whether there’s a valid replacement aircraft for the close-air support missions that the A-10 flies.

Ayotte told reporters on Tuesday that she expected she would release her hold this week when the Air Force responded to her.

With Ayotte’s hold lifted, James’s confirmation to be the next Air Force secretary does not appear to face any roadblocks. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) had also placed and then lifted a hold on her nomination over a local issue.

James, an SAIC executive, would be the second female secretary of the Air Force.