May 8, 2017

By: Joe Gould

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Monday approved the nomination of former congresswoman Heather Wilson to become the secretary of the Air Force in a bipartisan 76-22 vote.

As pressure builds on President Donald Trump to fill Pentagon jobs, Wilson’s confirmation is a signal that Democrats may go easier on his national security picks than his other nominees, at least after their names officially reach the Senate. Lawmakers of both parties have expressed concerns over the sluggish pace at which Trump is filling Defense Department jobs.

Twenty-five Democrats joined with the 51 Republicans who voted “yes” for Wilson. All 22 “no” votes were Democrats.

Wilson is the first service secretary confirmed to serve in the Trump administration. The vote came after Army secretary nominee Mark Green officially withdrew his name Friday amid scrutiny over his unfavorable comments on Islam, homosexuality and transgender rights connected to his work as a Tennessee state senator.

Green was the second nominee this year to step away from the Army secretary post and the third service secretary nominee to drop out before a confirmation hearing. Retired senior diplomat Anne Patterson’s name was withdrawn from consideration for the Pentagon’s top policy job in March after rumors of a potential Senate fight.

On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will consider the nominations of David Norquist to be defense undersecretary/comptroller; Robert Daigle to be director of cost assessment and program evaluation at the Defense Department and Elaine McCusker to be principal deputy defense undersecretary/comptroller.

Wilson is expected to be sworn within a week, according to the Air Force.

“We live in a remarkable country, protected by innovators and intrepid Airmen who take great risks on our behalf,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to getting to work, focusing on readiness, modernization, development of leaders and research for the future.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, opposed Wilson in a Senate floor speech ahead of the vote Monday, expressing “deep concerns” over ethical questions in her past.

Reed focused on allegations that as a congresswoman, Wilson allegedly pressured a federal prosecutor investigating corruption cases in New Mexico. He also questioned her on work she performed as a private contractor for Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sandia National Laboratories without providing evidence any work was done.

Reed said Wilson gave evasive answers during her confirmation hearing March 30, which “reluctantly led me to conclude, while Dr. Wilson has excellent academic qualifications, I must vote against her nomination before full Senate.”

He also voted against Wilson in a 22-5 committee vote on April 5.