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 TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments 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 McCarthyRepublicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases 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: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East 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 HeinrichSenators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics This week: House to vote on Turkey sanctions bill 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.