Trump faces growing pressure over Boeing safety concerns

Trump faces growing pressure over Boeing safety concerns
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The Trump administration held out Tuesday as other countries grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft amid safety concerns following the second fatal crash in recent months involving the plane.

The White House gave no indication that it would force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to temporarily ban the Max 8 models, despite precautionary measures taken by the European Union, China, Indonesia and numerous foreign airlines.

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"We have to review and see what actually took place," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Fox News. "This is going to be a process and we’re going to be in constant contact through the Department of Transportation, the FAA, and make a determination at the appropriate time."

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg assured Trump in a phone call Tuesday that the company's aircraft are safe. Earlier in the day Trump had tweeted that “airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly."

The controversy over Boeing's fleet of 737 Max 8 planes put fresh scrutiny on the aviation industry under the Trump administration. The FAA has been without a permanent leader since January 2018, when Daniel Elwell took over as acting administrator.

The FAA said in a statement Tuesday evening that its ongoing review of the planes has not turned up any issues that would warrant grounding the aircraft, and that it will take appropriate action if it determines otherwise.

Boeing issued a statement Tuesday expressing "full confidence in the safety of the 737 MAX."

"We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets," the company said. "We’ll continue to engage with them to ensure they have the information needed to have confidence in operating their fleets."

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But those statements did not assuage concerns voiced by lawmakers and industry leaders who characterized the decision to keep the planes in rotation as an unnecessary safety risk.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzJim Carrey fires back at 'Joe McCarthy wanna-be' Cruz Hillicon Valley: Google delays cutting off Huawei | GOP senators split over breaking up big tech | Report finds DNC lagging behind RNC on cybersecurity GOP senators split over antitrust remedies for big tech MORE (R-Texas,) chairman of a Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, urged the U.S. government to ground the planes "until the FAA confirms the safety of these aircraft & their passengers."

"Further investigation may reveal that mechanical issues were not the cause, but until that time, our first priority must be the safety of the flying public," he said in a tweet. "I intend to hold a hearing to investigate these crashes, determine their contributing factors, and ensure that the United States aviation industry remains the safest in the world."

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Jeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general This week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks MORE (D-Calif.) called on Elwell to ground the aircraft, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines should voluntarily suspend use of the 737 Max models "until we have answers."

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Alabama state senator introduces bill to repeal state's abortion ban Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE (R-Utah) and Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Reparations: The 'lost cause' of black politics? Dem lawmaker says Trump 'has in many respects become a dictator' MORE (D-Texas) were among those who called on the FAA to ground the planes pending an investigation into the causes of recent crashes.

Meanwhile, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign 2020 Dems put spotlight on disabilities issues MORE (D-Mass.) questioned whether the Trump administration had ulterior motives in declining to issue a ban on the 737 Max planes.

“In the coming weeks and months, Congress should hold hearings on whether an administration that famously refused to stand up to Saudi Arabia to protect foreign arms sales has once again put lives at risk for the same reason,” she said.

The Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed Sunday killing all 157 people on board was a Boeing 737 Max 8, the same model in a Lion Air crash in Indonesia last October that killed 189 people.

Both incidents are the subject of separate investigations, and U.S. officials have been dispatched to assist in the probe into the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Dozens of Boeing 737 Max 8s are in operation in the U.S., including 34 operated by Southwest Airlines and 24 by American Airlines. The model is typically used for longer-distance flights.

United Airlines said it does not have any 737 Max 8 planes in its fleet but uses 14 Max 9 models.

All three airlines said in separate statements to The Hill that they are in contact with Boeing and U.S. transportation officials, and that they are confident in the safety of the planes.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran MORE (D-Ill.) on Tuesday was reluctant to blame the two recent crashes on a problem with the plane.

“I wouldn’t go to that point until there’s reason to believe that this was something other than [a] one-off or pilot-error situation,” said Durbin, whose state is home to Boeing’s international headquarters. “It’s horrible to have a crash of two planes of the same model. I wouldn’t presume that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the plane absent other evidence.”

Industry groups, however, pressed for action on Tuesday.

Two major unions representing flight attendants in the U.S. — the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) — issued statements on Tuesday raising concerns about the safety of the 737 Max 8 model and calling for the planes to be grounded.

"The safety of our crews and passengers is paramount. Our flight attendants will not be forced to fly if they feel unsafe," APFA President Lori Bassani said in a statement.

"The United States has the safest aviation system in the world, but Americans are looking for leadership in this time of uncertainty," said Sara Nelson, president of the AFA. "The FAA must act decisively to restore the public faith in the system.”

--Updated at 6:47 p.m.