Phil Washington. Screenshot via the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington appeared on Capitol Hill Wednesday to face his long-awaited Senate confirmation hearing to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.
Why it matters: The divisive meeting marked the first public opportunity for President Biden's embattled nominee to defend himself.
- His nomination has been mired in turmoil for months, and has split Democrats and Republicans over his qualifications and ties to an ongoing criminal investigation over a whistleblower's claims of improper contracting while he led L.A. Metro.
- His hearing also comes as the FAA faces a slew of challenges, including several narrowly averted catastrophes in the past few months.
Details: Wednesday's hearing was fraught with political jockeying, as Republicans ripped into Washington's résumé, while most Democrats — including Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper — rallied behind him.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the committee, sharply criticized Washington over his lack of aviation safety experience, management of city projects and legal entanglements, including a new discrimination lawsuit at DIA.
- Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) focused on Washington's achievements, including being a 24-year U.S. Army veteran, leading transit agencies in Denver and Los Angeles, and running the world's third-busiest airport.
What he's saying: Washington downplayed all allegations and emphasized his leadership abilities. He also assured Senate committee members that his top priority as FAA leader would be ensuring passengers and crew fly safely.
- The FAA is "at a crossroads — an agency that must protect the safest era in aviation, modernize its technology, lift employee morale while staffing up, and maintain its global leadership in aviation," Washington said.
- "We need permanent leadership at the top of the FAA to address the challenges that we have seen in the last several years. If confirmed, I will draw on a career spanning almost 45 years to be that leader," he added.
Of note: Washington denied any wrongdoing in the corruption case related to his time leading L.A. Metro and encouraged Congress to investigate the allegations — which Cruz said was already underway.
What's next: Senate committee members will have until March 6 to submit questions for the record, and Washington has until March 13 to respond.
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