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Senate confirms Trump’s Air Force secretary pick

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Trump’s nominee to be the top civilian leading the Air Force.

The Senate voted 85-7 to approve Barbara Barrett to be Air Force secretary.

“Ms. Barrett will serve as the civilian head at the Air Force at a pivotal time for our military,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement after the vote. “We need to modernize and innovate if we want to keep up with China and Russia, and this is especially important if we want to maintain air and space supremacy. At her nomination hearing, Ms. Barrett demonstrated she shares these priorities, understands the challenges we face and is prepared to tackle these issues head-on.”

The opposing votes all came from Democrats: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tina Smith (Minn.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.).

The Air Force has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since the end of May when former Secretary Heather Wilson stepped down to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Wilson’s relationship with Trump soured over his Space Force proposal. At her confirmation hearing, Barrett pledged to prioritize setting up a Space Force, a separate military branch for space that first must get congressional approval.

Barrett’s resume includes past stints as chairwoman of the Aerospace Corporation, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and ambassador to Finland.

Barrett’s nomination slowed after being advanced out of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month after Blumenthal placed a hold on the nomination. Though she had her confirmation hearing and was advanced out of committee alongside Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had to file a motion to invoke cloture on Barrett’s nomination rather than her being voice-voted like McCarthy.

Blumenthal has said he opposes Barrett because she would not commit to issuing a service-wide policy banning stays at Trump properties.

“Barrett’s repeated failure to commit to ending unnecessary/unlawful Air Force spending at Trump’s properties should be disqualifying,” Blumenthal tweeted Tuesday. “The military must stop subsidizing Trump hotels&golf clubs—making the Pentagon budget his personal piggy bank. Strong ethical standards are needed.”

Blumenthal grilled Barrett on the issue at her confirmation hearing amid congressional inquiries into airmen staying at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland during refueling stops. Barrett pledged to “take a look” at the issue, which did not go far enough for Blumenthal.

Barrett was also grilled by Democrats at her hearing on Trump’s recent move to take $3.6 billion from military construction projects and use it for his proposed border wall. 

Barrett told Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) that she believes “the priority remains very high” for constructing a new building at an MQ-9 Reaper drone training facility at Holloman Air Force Base despite $85 million being “deferred” for the wall.

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