Senate panel advances Trump's nominees to lead Air Force, Army

Senate panel advances Trump's nominees to lead Air Force, Army
© Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE’s nominees to be the top civilians leading the Air Force and Army.

The committee on Wednesday advanced by voice vote Barbara Barrett to be Air Force secretary and Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyTrump's 355-ship pledge complicates the Navy's budget dilemma Overnight Defense: War powers fight runs into impeachment | Kaine has 51 votes for Iran resolution | Trump plans to divert .2B from Pentagon to border wall Overnight Defense: House passes measure to limit Trump on Iran | Pelosi vows vote to end 2002 war authorization | Officials believe Iran accidentally shot down passenger plane MORE to be Army secretary, sending them to the full Senate for a vote less than a week after their confirmation hearing.

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The Air Force has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since the end of May when former Secretary Heather Wilson stepped down to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Wilson’s relationship with Trump soured over his Space Force proposal. At her confirmation hearing, Barrett pledged to prioritize setting up a Space Force, a separate military branch for space that first must get congressional approval.

Barrett’s résumé includes past stints as chairwoman of the Aerospace Corporation, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and ambassador to Finland.

McCarthy, meanwhile, has served as under secretary of the Army since 2017. The military branch's top civilian post has been vacant since former Army Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes MORE was confirmed to lead the Pentagon in July.

At Barrett and McCarthy’s confirmation hearing, Democrats grilled them on Trump’s recent move to take $3.6 billion from military construction projects and use it for his proposed border wall.

Barrett told Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Health care, spending bills fuel busy year for K Street Schumer introduces bill requiring GDP measure inequality MORE (D-N.M.) that she believes “the priority remains very high” for constructing a new building at an MQ-9 Reaper drone training facility at Holloman Air Force Base despite $85 million being “deferred” for the wall.

McCarthy, meanwhile, pledged to get senators the legal opinion on the use of military construction funds for the border wall.

Barrett was also pressed on airmen staying at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland during refueling stops. Barrett pledged to “take a look” at the issue, but would not commit to issuing a servicewide policy banning stays at Trump properties.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who grilled Barrett on the Turnberry issue, said later Wednesday he opposes Barrett's confirmation.

"Our military budget is not President Trump's personal piggy bank," Blumenthal said in a statement. "Ambassador Barrett refused to provide a clear commitment to ending unnecessary Air Force spending at President Trump's lavish Scottish hotel. This in unacceptable, especially for a service secretary in an administration run by Grifter-in-Chief Donald Trump."

Updated at 2:33 p.m.