HAI’s Government Affairs team provides an update on a busy week on Capitol Hill, including profiles of three members of the freshman class of Congress who are former military aviators. Plus, FAA news.
House Votes on Speaker, Again
Days after the November midterm elections occurred, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.-11) announced she would step down from her congressional leadership role as speaker of the House. Although Pelosi plans to serve her term as a representative in the 118th Congress, she’ll leave behind serving as the top House Democrat after more than 20 years.
Republicans now control the House by a narrow majority. The first order of business before the House can officially convene is for Republicans to elect their leadership. The process is proving to be anything but simple for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.-20). At the time of this writing, McCarthy had already suffered 12 failed votes for the speaker position.
Nevertheless, McCarthy and his leadership team appear committed to repeating roll calls until he reaches the 218 votes required to become speaker. McCarthy made significant concessions in the House rules package in an attempt to secure votes from his dissenters in the Freedom Caucus. The rules package dictates key policies and procedures for how the House conducts its legislative business. Many of the proposed concessions would transfer some powers now reserved to the speaker to rank-and-file members.
Republicans who oppose McCarthy want a single member to be able to force a vote to oust the speaker. Currently, the House rules package would allow five members to motion to vacate the chair; however, several Republicans want more accountability and commitment from McCarthy.
McCarthy has a number of bargaining chips he’s considering, including committee chair selections, multiple seats on the powerful House Rules Committee, and a return to regular order for appropriations bills, among others. Whether leveraging any of these will garner the votes he needs to be elected Speaker remains to be seen. In any case, patience is wearing thin within the party.
It is important to note that until a speaker is selected, a rules package can’t be adopted and House members can’t be sworn in. Without a speaker, committees could face restrictions and staff could risk missing their first month’s pay. Until committee chairs are named (selected by the majority party), committees will be unable to hire new staff or spend money on travel, equipment, or supplies.
McCarthy has won backing from most Republicans in each vote so far, but that hasn’t been enough to win the majority of the House, given the GOP’s slim margin of control. In the meantime, the House will continue to vote until someone wins, and HAI will continue to stay updated on the final decision.
Meet the Freshman Class of the 118th Congress
The 118th Congress convened for the first time this Tuesday, and it’s already off to a notable start. New members arrived this week at the Capitol to take their oath of office. The freshman class consists of 75 representatives and 7 senators. This class is the youngest in recent history, with the majority being in their 40s and 50s, and 18 in their 20s and 30s. It’s also one of the biggest classes of veteran lawmakers. The 19 incoming veterans will bring the total of veteran lawmakers at the Capitol to 97. Of those 19, 3 are helicopter pilots, and 1 is a former combat aviator pilot. Meet them below!
Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas-38), a former army helicopter pilot, will represent parts of Harris County, Texas. Hunt was born and raised in Houston, Texas, in a military family. At an early age, he was appointed to the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. In 2004, he received his commission in the US Army and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in leadership and management with a field of study in mechanical engineering. After West Point, Hunt spent eight years in the army as an aviation branch officer and AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter pilot.
Rep. John James (R-Mich.-10) served in the US Army for eight years with multiple tours in Iraq, where he flew a total of 750 combat hours as an Apache helicopter pilot. Like fellow freshman Wesley Hunt, the new Michigan representative is one of Congress’s first Black West Point graduates (he was in the same collegiate class as Hunt) and the first Black Republican whom Michigan has sent to Congress.
Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.-02) earned a degree in international relations from Boston University and taught English in public high schools in Matsuyama, Japan. Kiggans then served for 10 years in the US Navy, completing two deployments to the Persian Gulf as a helicopter pilot. She’s a graduate of Old Dominion University School of Nursing and Vanderbilt University’s nurse practitioner program. Before becoming a member of the 118th Congress, Kiggans served as a primary care provider for a small private practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and worked in several long-term-care and nursing facilities in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia. Kiggans also has served in the Virginia state senate for the past two years.
Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa-03) is a US Air Force veteran who flew nearly more than 700 combat hours during three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, mostly in reconnaissance aircraft. Nunn graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Drake University and holds advanced degrees in international security from Cambridge University (England) and cybersecurity from the US Air Force Air Command & Staff College. Nunn received numerous decorations for saving US forces ambushed by Taliban insurgents during his deployments to the Middle East, executing special operations, and leading COVID-19 recovery efforts with the Iowa Air National Guard.
HAI recognizes the diversity of the freshman class of the 118th Congress and is excited to see fellow helicopter/aviation pilots representing their regions and the nation. We look forward to working closely with them all.
White House Renominates Phil Washington as FAA Administrator
On Jan. 3, following months of delayed proceedings in the US Senate, President Joe Biden renominated Phil Washington, transit official and CEO of Denver International Airport (KDEN), to the position of administrator of the FAA. Biden initially nominated Washington last year to fill the role vacated by former administrator Steve Dickson, who retired in March 2022.
With Biden’s renomination this week, Washington will get another chance at confirmation. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation never scheduled Washington’s nomination hearing in the last Congress. Democrats now have a 51–49 power balance in the Senate, giving them a more comfortable margin to advance nominees. Yet Washington still faces an uphill battle to confirmation, as senators have scrutinized his aviation experience and ties to a Los Angeles search warrant.
The FAA has been without a confirmed leader for almost a year, as the aviation industry has faced major concerns surrounding staffing, flight disruptions, and advancing the future of aviation. Congress is expected to turn its focus to the FAA this year as it works to reauthorize major aviation programs before the end of 2023.
Industry Coalition Presses FAA on Overdue UAS Rulemaking
Aviation and business interests are renewing efforts to urge the FAA to complete its work on a long-overdue rule that would create a framework for designating critical facilities that drones must avoid. Six years have passed since Congress required the FAA to establish such a process as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The Act mandated the FAA to create a process where sensitive sites, such as energy facilities, factories, and amusement parks, among others, can apply to have nearby airspace restricted from drones.
Without an official ruling from the FAA, multiple states have already designed their own restrictions. The diverse list of restrictions has further confused and frustrated drone operators and law enforcement. The industry wants established rules from the FAA to preempt state rules. The industry understands that the FAA needs to cooperate with multiple agencies for this process to occur. Despite how time-consuming the process may be, the safe and unanimous integration of drones into the national airspace system is extremely important for community acceptance, the protection of people and property, and for security risk-mitigation purposes.
The notice of proposed rulemaking was supposed to be issued in 2019 and was then pushed to 2021. According to the Department of Transportation, the new rule date is now set for the end of this year.