Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has withdrawn after failing to persuade senators skeptical of his thin aviation background.
Democrats had sought to create a sense of urgency about leaving the position vacant, but Phillip Washington's nomination failed over concerns Republicans raised about his inexperience.
Those worries were underscored by chaos at the nation's airports, with an uptick in cancellations and near collisions raising concerns about competence and safety.
It wasn't just Republicans who were skeptical of Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport.
The Senate Commerce Committee cancelled a vote Wednesday to advance Washington's nomination after Democrats failed to win support from Jon Tester (D-Mt.) and Krysten Sinema (Az.), an independent.
Still, the White House issued a statement blaming "an onslaught of unfounded Republican attacks on Mr. Washington's service."
Pete Buttigieg, whose record as Transportation Secretary has come under withering scrutiny, also released a statement complaining about "partisan attacks" on Washington.
“The FAA needs a confirmed Administrator, and Phil Washington’s transportation & military experience made him an excellent nominee,” he tweeted. “The partisan attacks and procedural obstruction he has faced are undeserved, but I respect his decision to withdraw and am grateful for his service.”
During his confirmation hearing, Washington was unable to answer rudimentary questions about aviation safety. But Democrats argued his inexperience was a plus, painting him as an outsider to an industry in need of oversight.
The FAA held a safety summit earlier this month after an uptick in near collisions at airports. There have been seven already this year.
“Initial information suggests that more mistakes than usual are happening across the system, on runways, at gates while planes are pushing back, in control towers, and on flight decks," Buttigieg said at the summit.
Citing the "significant challenges" facing the airline industry, Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Tx.) called on Biden to nominate someone who won't need "on-the-job training."
"The Biden administration must now quickly name someone to head the FAA who has an extensive aviation background, can earn widespread bipartisan support in the Senate, and will keep the flying public safe,” Cruz added.
The FAA hasn't had a Senate-confirmed leader since March of 2022. Washington's failure to make it through leaves Billy Nolen in the role of acting administrator.