Biden’s pick to lead the FAA withdraws nomination after losing Senate support

Phillip Washington
FILE – Phillip Washington, the nominee to become administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at the Capitol in Washington, March 1, 2023. A vote on President Joe Biden’s choice to run the Federal Aviation Administration, Denver International Airport CEO Washington, was delayed indefinitely Wednesday, March 22, in the face of an opposition blitz by Republicans, who say the nominee lacks enough experience in aviation to lead the agency, which is under pressure to stem a surge is dangerous close calls between planes. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Biden’s pick to lead the FAA withdraws nomination after losing Senate support

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President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration announced Saturday evening that he would withdraw his nomination after it became clear he lacked the votes for Senate confirmation.

Denver International Airport CEO Phillip Washington was criticized by Senate Republicans since being nominated eight months ago on a number of issues, including his slim credentials in aviation safety and potential legal entanglements. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg confirmed Washington’s withdrawal in a tweet late Saturday in which he blamed his failed nomination on “partisan attacks and procedural obstruction.”


A White House official said in a statement to CNN that the administration would work to find a new nominee to lead the FAA, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since March 2022, when then-FAA Administrator Steve Dickson stepped down less than halfway through his five-year term.

Though Biden nominated Washington last July, he did not get a committee hearing until earlier this month. Washington — who ran transit agencies in Denver, Colorado, and Los Angeles, California — has only served in his current role as chief executive of the Denver International Airport for less than two years. This role is his only aviation experience. The longtime transit executive is a close Biden ally and led the 46th president’s transition team for the Transportation Department, which includes the FAA.

Republicans remained unified in opposition to Washington over his resume and concerns about his name appearing in search warrants related to a corruption probe in Los Angeles. Washington had denied any wrongdoing and said he was not contacted by law enforcement.

Support among others on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee began to wane in recent weeks, which came to a head when Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who chairs the panel, abruptly called off a vote on Washington’s nomination scheduled for Wednesday. The move appeared to indicate that Washington lacked the votes to move his nomination out of committee.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), a Democrat-turned-Independent who still caucuses with her former party and sits on the panel, had indicated her opposition, a person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. She had not publicly said how she planned to vote on the nomination ahead of Wednesday’s being postponed. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) told Politico that the vote was delayed due to “one person,” though she would not say who.

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Jon Tester (D-MT), a moderate who faces a tough 2024 reelection fight, had also declined to say how they would vote on the nomination as the vote approached.


Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), a Republican on the committee, told the Washington Examiner in an interview Wednesday that Washington’s nomination was in more peril than Democrats wanted to admit at the time.

The FAA has faced scrutiny in recent months amid air safety and overall competency concerns after massive spikes in delayed or canceled flights and near-misses on runways.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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