Republicans press Biden to withdraw FAA nominee

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Greg Nash
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks to reporters as he arrives to the Capitol for a series of procedural nomination votes on Tuesday, February 28, 2023.

Top Republicans on Thursday urged President Biden to withdraw his pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), arguing that the White House doesn’t have the necessary votes.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Biden they can block the nomination of Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington. 

They said that because federal law requires the FAA administrator to be a civilian, and Washington is a 24-year Army veteran with retired military status, he would have to secure a waiver from both the Senate and House to be confirmed. 

Republicans would not grant that waiver, they said, due to concerns about Washington’s experience and a corruption investigation he’s been named in. 

“When considering whether to grant a legislative waiver of this requirement, it is incumbent on Congress to examine whether, on balance, the qualifications and experience of the nominee outweigh the concerns of undermining the law. Unfortunately, in the case of Mr. Washington’s record, it is very clear that it does not,” Cruz and Graves wrote in a letter to Biden. 

A White House spokesperson told The Hill that Washington’s nomination should not require a waiver because he retired from the U.S. Army in 2000 and “has served in a civilian capacity since then.” 

“This nomination has been pending for months. This is a role with a key safety mandate and we believe it’s time to move swiftly on confirmation,” the spokesperson said. 

Cruz and Graves wrote in their letter that the length of time after an FAA nominee retires from the military makes no difference. Previous nominees with retired military status have had to secure a waiver or give up their status, which provides retirement benefits.  

“It would not matter if Mr. Washington had served in civilian roles for 50 years — given his status on the Army’s retired list, he would still not be considered a civilian for the purpose of the law and thus require a waiver. Any suggestion to the contrary represents a flagrant disregard for the rule of law,” they wrote.

The Senate Commerce Committee held its nomination hearing for Washington on Wednesday more than seven months after Biden nominated him. The FAA has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator for nearly a year amid a series of problems at the agency, including a January system meltdown that grounded all U.S. flights for several hours.

The nomination process slowed down after Washington was named in a September search warrant investigating allegations of favoritism in contracts handed out by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, which Washington ran before becoming an airport executive in 2021.

Democrats have rallied behind Washington, arguing that his lack of aviation industry credentials would help ensure the FAA isn’t too cozy with the companies it regulates. 

Tags FAA Federal Aviation Administration Joe Biden nominee Sam Graves Ted Cruz

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