Kendall Nomination Held Without Explanation by Three Senators

The nomination of Frank Kendall to serve as President Joe Biden’s Air Force Secretary is being held by three senators who have declined to publicly state the reason for their hold, Air Force Magazine has learned, with the Senate in recess until July 12.

Kendall’s nomination sailed out of the Armed Services Committee June 10 after a favorable May 25 hearing, but the failure to reach a nomination vote has left John Roth acting Secretary of the Air Force for 160 days.

“Everyone wants to see this move forward,” a Senate Armed Services Committee aide told Air Force Magazine at the Capitol June 30. “We’ve done our part.”

A legislative aide confirmed that the three senators holding up the nomination are Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, and Utah Republican Mike Lee.

The offices of Warren and Peters did not respond to requests for comment from Air Force Magazine, and Lee’s office declined to confirm or deny a hold was in place.

The reason for senatorial holds are varied, ranging from concerns with the nominee to the simple exertion of leverage.

“A hold is not necessarily saying we don’t want to vote on the nominee,” a Senate aide told Air Force Magazine. “Holds are one of the few ways that senators who aren’t on the committee can let DOD or the Secretary of the Air Force know that we are here.”

The aide explained that a hold could be a signal to the Pentagon that a letter hasn’t been answered.

“Sometimes it’s a mid-level bureaucrat that needs to answer an email,” the aide said. “These things can be resolved.”

In the case of the Air Force, with budget season in full swing, the lack of an approved nominee could slow down negotiations with Congress. Kendall, a defense industry insider with extensive DOD acquisition experience, is sought after as the Air Force retires legacy systems and plans investments in more fifth generation aircraft.

That may have to wait.

The Senate is due to return from their Independence Day recess on July 12, and the August recess is scheduled for Aug. 9 to Sept. 15, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is threatening to take away the August 9-13 week if no progress is made on Biden’s infrastructure package.

“The hold doesn’t necessarily mean that we are opposed to having a vote,” the Senate aide said. “But the senator … may want to exact leverage on Biden, on Schumer, DOD, the Department of the Air Force, or the mid-level bureaucrat.”

Kendall is not the only high-level nominee being held up by the senators. Susanna Blume, nominee for director of cost assessment, is being held by Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, who is unhappy with Biden’s Navy budget, reported Politico.