Senate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary

Senate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary
© JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate has confirmed President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE’s choice to be Air Force secretary after senators dropped holds on him.

In a voice vote Monday evening, the Senate approved Frank Kendall to lead the Air Force.

Kendall, formerly the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer during the Obama administration, had a breezy confirmation hearing in late May and advanced out of the Senate Armed Services Committee with a voice vote in early June.

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But his nomination stalled after that as several senators placed holds on him.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFederal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (D-Mass.) lifted her hold earlier this month after she secured a commitment from Kendall to extend his agreements on recusing himself from decisions involving former industry employers and not seeking industry employment after his government service from the legally required two years to four years.

On Monday, Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersFreedomWorks misfires on postal reform Senators call on Taiwan for aid in automotive chip shortage Lawmakers raise concerns over federal division of cybersecurity responsibilities MORE (D-Mich.) told The Detroit News he also lifted his hold on Kendall as well as holds on nine other defense nominees. Peters placed the holds in protest of an Air Force decision to base an F-16 and F-35 international training center in Arkansas rather than his home state of Michigan.

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEconomy adds just 235K jobs in August as delta hammers growth Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Afghanistan fiasco proves we didn't leave soon enough MORE (R-Utah) also reportedly had a hold on Kendall.

During his previous stint at the Pentagon, Kendall had some harsh words for the F-35 fighter jet program, saying in 2012 that the decision to put it into production before flight tests was “acquisition malpractice.” However, later on in his tenure in 2016, Kendall said there had been “continuing progress in all aspects” of the program.

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At his confirmation hearing to be Air Force secretary, Kendall walked a fine line on the F-35 fighter jet program, expressing concern about sustainment costs and future upgrades but also calling the jet the “best tactical aircraft of its type in the world.”

“The F-35 is the best tactical aircraft of its type in the world and will be so for quite some time,” Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It's a complex, expensive weapon, unfortunately, but it is a dominant weapon when it goes up against earlier-generation aircraft.”

Kendall also said he believes the Air Force needs an “affordable mix” of aircraft to meet the National Defense Strategy but further suggested he believes buying more F-35s will help drive down sustainment costs.

“I have a long history with the F-35. It has struggled, certainly, and since I left government four years ago, I understand the sustainment costs are a concern,” he said.

“Also, there is concern with the upgrade to the most recent version, and it's having trouble there, which I've heard about through press accounts only and I'll have to take a look at if I'm confirmed,” he added. “The key to keeping the cost down in an air fleet is getting the numbers up. There's a very strong correlation between the size of the fleet and the cost to sustain that fleet.”

With Kendall’s confirmation Monday and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth’s confirmation in May, the Biden administration needs just one more service secretary confirmed. Carlos Del Toro, Biden’s pick to be Navy secretary, had his confirmation hearing earlier this month and is awaiting a Senate Armed Services Committee vote.