OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Federal Aviation Administration has withdrawn after receiving shaky support in the Senate.
The nominee, Denver International Airport CEO Phillip Washington, appeared to not have the support in the Senate, even with a Democrat majority, to be confirmed, The Associated Press reported.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that Washington had withdrawn his nomination in a tweet on Saturday.
“The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee. The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service,” he said.
The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee. The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service.
— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) March 26, 2023
The Associated Press reported.
Republicans were united in opposition to Washington, calling him unqualified because of limited aviation experience. Democrats and allied independents still might have pushed the nomination through, but key senators on their side balked at supporting Biden’s pick.
Washington’s fate appeared settled when Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., abruptly called off a scheduled vote last Wednesday — a sign that she lacked enough votes to move the nomination out of committee. She said some senators wanted more information about Washington.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who was a Democrat until switching to independent in December, and moderate Democrat Jon Tester of Montana declined to say how they would have voted. A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that Sinema was holding up the nomination and had indicated her opposition. The person was not authorized to discuss the process publicly and insisted on anonymity.
“Phillip A. Washington was nominated by Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and unanimously confirmed by the Denver City Council as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Denver International Airport. Prior to this, Washington was the CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). At Metro, Washington managed a budget of more than $8 billion and oversaw 11,000 employees that transported 1.2 million boarding passengers daily on a fleet of 2,200 clean-air buses and six rail lines. Washington also previously served as the CEO of Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) and worked as the Assistant General Manager of RTD for nearly 10 years before being named CEO,” The White House said in announcing his nomination in July.
“Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Washington is a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Army, where he held the rank of Command Sergeant Major. He retired from active duty, is a disabled veteran and was awarded the prestigious Defense Superior Service Medal for exceptional service to his country. He holds a B.A. in Business from Columbia College, and an M.A. in Management from Webster University,” it said.
It comes amid other issues for Buttigieg since a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.
In February a senior Biden administration official pushed back on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg after he appeared to blame former President Donald Trump for the derailment of a train in East Palestine, Ohio, that led to a massive environmental disaster.
The fact-check of sorts by an official with the National Transportation Safety Board came after Buttigieg responded to Trump’s visit to the small community to deliver water and other supplies and to show his support for the people affected by the spillage of highly toxic chemicals.
“One thing he can do is express support for reversing the deregulation that happened on his watch. I heard him say he had nothing to do with it, even though it was in his administration. So, if he had nothing to do with it and they did it in his administration against his will, maybe he can come out and say that he supports us moving in a different direction,” Buttigieg said.
“We’re not afraid to own our policies when it comes to raising the bar on regulation. I’ve got to think that him indicating that this is something that everybody, no matter how much you disagree on politics and presidential campaigns, can get behind — higher fines, tougher regulations on safety, Congress untying our hands on breaking rules, all the other things that go with that — that would be a nice thing for him to do,” Buttigieg continued.
In a subsequent interview with far-left MSNBC host Joy Reid, the transportation chief continued to point fingers at Trump.
“You know, the sort of theatrics of Donald Trump being in Palestine were odd, but this is a community that voted overwhelmingly for him. The county that Palestine is in voted 71/29 for Donald Trump,” she said as she broached the topic during one segment of the interview.
“I want you to reflect on the irony. In 2016, it was 68/26. This is a Trump county. What do you make of the fact he went there despite the fact the regulations he rolled back were partly responsible for this tragedy?” she asked.
“It was definitely an ironic thing to do. You take down regulations, you water down regulations, you weaken the power of the administration to deal with freight railroad companies, and then you show up wanting to be a great friend of the people who have been impacted by a rail disaster,” Buttigieg responded.
“You know, this is somebody who as far as I know never went to a derailment site when one of those happens on his watch. And there were thousands. Even ones with fatalities. Never even sent his Transportation Secretary to go. Now that it’s campaign season, I guess things are different. We were there to work. We were there to get things done,” Buttigieg added.
But NTSB chairwoman Jennifer Homendy begged to differ, telling a press conference that the onus is on the rail company, Norfolk Southern, not “politics” or a rule regarding certain brakes that was loosened during Trump’s term.
“The wheel bearing failed on car number 23. So even with ECP brakes, the derailment would have occurred. Enough with the politics on this. Enough with the politics. I don’t understand why this has gotten so political,” she said. “This is a community that is suffering. This is not about politics. This is about addressing their needs, their concerns. That’s what this should be about. What I care about is caring for them. What I care about is figuring out how this happened.
“And what I care about and what the NTSB cares about is getting to what would prevent this from reoccurring,” she continued. “This is about addressing their needs and their concerns. That’s what this should be about. So I don’t care about the politics. What I care about is figuring out how this happened.”
She went on to say: “I can tell you this much: This was 100% preventable. We call things accidents. There is no accident. Every single event that we investigate is preventable.
“Know that the NTSB has one goal, and that is safety and ensuring that this never happens again. There are often a lot of considerations in what goes into what is preventable. There is usually far more than one thing,” she said.