Sen. Kelly Ayotte had put a hold on the US Air Force secretary's nomination over worries that the Air Force was set to retire the A-10 before a suitable replacement is ready. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Senate Armed Services member Kelly Ayotte is dropping her bid to block the White House's pick for Air Force secretary.
An Ayotte aide told Defense News on Thursday that Ayotte will no longer stand in the way of Debroah Lee James’ nomination after carefully reviewing data provided in response to question she submitted to the Air Force.
The move allows SASC to act on her nomination as soon as late this month. The Senate recessed late Wednesday after passing a bill to avert a debt default and reopen the government; the chamber returns Oct. 28.
The aide said Ayotte will support James' nomination as it moves through the committee and then hits the Senate floor.
Ayotte first placed the hold over the service’s consideration of retiring its A-10 attack aircraft fleet to cut costs. She then doubled down on it after determining answers to questions she submitted to the service were insufficient.
Ayotte has been worried the Air Force is set to retire the planes, known for decades for their lethal fire support of US and allied ground troops, before a suitable replacement is ready.
Under Senate rules, any senator can block a presidential nominee for any reason.
Another senator, Martin Heinrich, a freshman Democrat from New Mexico, had also been holding up the James nomination. He lifted his hold earlier this month.
Ayotte, whose husband Joe was an A-10 pilot, raised the issue of cutting the Thunderbolt fleet during a Sept. 19 hearing on James’ nomination in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“What makes me concerned is that there already has been a decision made on the A-10,” she said. “The A-10 has a very important function in terms of close-air support and in fact, most recently in July, 60 soldiers were saved in Afghanistan because of the important close-air support provided by the A-10.”
At that time, James insisted that no final decision had been made on the A-10.
While that official line has been repeated by Air Force officials, sources have told Defense News that the service is considering cutting the entire A-10 fleet.
Proponents of cutting the A-10 argue its close-air support mission can be done with other platforms and point out its mission is less relevant as the Air Force turns towards the Pacific region, but the platform is a political minefield. It remains popular with the Reserve and National Guard branches of the Air Force and has supporters in the Army who view its mission as critical for the defense of ground troops.