WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Kelly Ayotte is blocking Senate action on President Barack Obama's nominee for Air Force secretary until she gets answers about the fate of the military's A-10 attack aircraft.
The New Hampshire Republican placed a "hold" on the nomination of Deborah Lee James amid signals from senior Air Force officials that the aircraft may be scrapped due to budget cuts.
"As ranking member of the Armed Services readiness subcommittee, Sen. Ayotte's central concern is that our troops, including New Hampshire servicemen and women serving in harm's way, have the close air support they need to safely accomplish their missions," Liz Johnson, a spokeswoman for the senator, said in a statement Thursday. "The A-10 airframe is credited with saving 60 American lives this summer in Afghanistan."
Johnson said Ayotte had not gotten the answers from the Air Force on whether it planned to eliminate the aircraft before a replacement was available. The Air Force was in the process of responding and once Ayotte received a "substantive response" she would lift her hold on the nomination, Johnson said.
Ayotte's husband, Joe Daley, is a former A-10 pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq.
The senator questioned James about the aircraft at her confirmation hearing earlier this month, arguing that until the next generation F-35 aircraft was operational "we can't be giving up our capacity, particularly important capacity that protects our troops."
James had testified that there had been no decision on the A-10, but the Air Force was looking at all options as it faces automatic, across-the board spending cuts.
Ayotte submitted 32 follow-up questions to the Air Force.