President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, Phil Washington, this weekend withdrew his name from consideration, blaming “cheap and unfounded partisan attacks.” In reality, however, it wasn’t Republicans who caused Washington’s withdrawal—it was Democrats.
Senate Commerce Committee chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) last week decided to postpone a vote to advance Washington’s nomination, indicating that she lacked enough votes from Democrats. Two of the holdouts were Sens. John Tester (D., Mont.), who remained undecided up until Washington bowed out, and Kyrsten Sinema (I., Ariz.), who had strong concerns about Washington. While Sinema is officially an independent, she still caucuses with Democrats, who have only a narrow one-vote majority on the committee.
After Washington announced his withdrawal, Sinema said in a statement that “the administration should quickly nominate a permanent FAA administrator with the necessary, substantial aviation safety experience and expertise,” Reuters reported.
Washington has faced widespread criticism over his perceived lack of experience. His only aviation-related job was as CEO of Denver International Airport, where he had worked for just a year before Biden picked him for FAA administrator. Washington was also unable to answer Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Ted Cruz’s (R., Texas) questions about airplane safety—a crucial concern after near-collisions on runways, flight cancellations, and FAA computer glitches.
“This wasn’t the time for an administrator who needed on-the-job training,” Cruz said after Washington withdrew his name, according to Politico.
Cruz has said the committee would likely be willing to confirm acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen, a former pilot, to the top job.
The White House seconded Washington’s “partisan” claim, Politico reported, with an official blaming “unfounded Republican attacks” for Washington’s decision. The official did not mention Tester, Sinema, or Cantwell’s decision to postpone the vote.