Sen. Cornyn blocks White House nominee for Air Force chief

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has blocked the White House's nominee to be the next Air Force chief of staff, The Hill has confirmed.

Cornyn placed the hold on Gen. Mark Welsh’s nomination over concerns with the sexual assault scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, his office said on Friday.

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The hold will — at least temporarily — delay Welsh replacing the retiring Gen. Norton Schwartz as Air Force chief.

“My hold on General Welsh will remain until I feel the Air Force is adequately addressing the unacceptable situation at Lackland and taking corrective steps to reform their training program to prevent this from happening again,” Cornyn said in a statement to The Hill.

The Lackland scandal has seen a dozen Air Force basic training instructors accused of sexual assault with more than 30 victims involved.

At his nomination hearing, Welsh said what the Air Force is doing to try to stop sexual assault “is not working.”

“There is a lot more work to be done here,” the nominee said.

He suggested the military should examine more closely who are the perpetrators in order to reduce the number of sexual assaults.

“Maybe it's better screening on entry into the service. I don't know if there's a tool that will allow us to help in that regard to at least identify the predators, but we should be looking for it,” Welsh said.

A Cornyn aide says the senator is hopeful he will meet with Welsh soon to discuss Lackland and address his concerns.

Welsh, who headed up the Air Force's European command, was picked to replace Schwartz when the four-star general steps down as service chief on Aug. 10.

Welsh’s nomination was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday along with a host of others, including Gen. Frank Grass to become the next National Guard chief and Lt. Gen. John Kelly as the new head of United States Southern Command.

Grass and Kelly were approved by unanimous consent on the floor Thursday. Cornyn's hold prevented Welsh from being approved along with them. Any senator can place a hold on any nominee for any reason to block their confirmation. Once the hold is lifted, Welsh is expected to be confirmed.

Grass is the No. 2 officer at Northern Command and Vice Commander at North American Aerospace Defense Command. Kelly serves as the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. John Sheets confirmed to The Hill earlier in the day that Welsh’s nomination was put on hold, but he said the Air Force was not certain who had placed the hold.

— This story was originally posted at 3:04 p.m. and updated at 4:54 p.m.