Senate approves Arizonan Barrett as fourth female Air Force secretary

WASHINGTON – The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to confirm Arizona businesswoman Barbara Barrett as the next Air Force secretary, one day after brushing aside an attempt to stall her nomination over Air Force use of Trump hotels for official business.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., was unhappy that Barrett refused at her confirmation hearing last month to say she would prohibit the continued use of Trump properties by Air Force employees. Barrett said at the time that she supports such a rule, but would not single out one company for imposition of such a rule.

Blumenthal had vowed to block the confirmation on the floor, but the Senate voted 84-7 Tuesday evening to let the vote go forward before approving her confirmation 85-7 Wednesday. Blumenthal and six other Democrats opposed Barrett both times.

Barrett said after Wednesday’s vote that she understands where Blumenthal was coming from and looks forward to working with him on the issue as secretary.

“I understand that at a time like this there will be differences of opinion and I look forward to working with him and everyone else in the U.S. Senate and across the country,” she said.

Barrett, who will be the fourth female Air Force secretary, previously served as U.S. ambassador to Finland under President George W. Bush and was a senior adviser to the U.S. mission to the United Nations. She also served as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She was on the board of the Aerospace Corp., founded Valley Bank of Arizona and, with her husband, is a benefactor of Arizona State University.

Barrett said it was Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who put her name forward and was instrumental in convincing President Donald Trump to nominate her. In a joint interview with Barrett after the vote, McSally called it a “great day for Arizona” and “for our airmen and our Air Force, and for our country.”

The senator said Barrett’s experience and leadership skills will be “so critical right now at this time in history” and she is glad to have a fellow Arizonan in this position due to her knowledge of the state and its Air Force ties.

“Arizona is her home and she already knows the amazing attributes we have with our weather and our air space and our training ranges, and Luke and Davis-Monthan,” McSally said, referring to two Air Force bases in the state.

An aide to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., also commended the confirmation, saying in a prepared statement after the vote that Sinema found Barrett “professionally qualified” for the job.

“After carefully reviewing her nomination, Kyrsten believes Barbara Barrett is professionally qualified and will uphold the mission of the Air Force to keep Arizona families safe and secure,” the statement read.

That’s not what Blumenthal said in a letter to Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Blumenthal said last month that Barrett “lacks many of the traditional credentials expected of the secretary of the Air Force.”

Other senators at the Sept. 12 confirmation hearing for Barrett and Army secretary nominee Ryan McCarthy asked how the two would react to the president’s diversion of Defense Department funds toward construction of a border wall – a move Congress has twice voted to overturn and Trump has twice vetoed, most recently Wednesday. Both Barrett and McCarthy would only say they would follow the law on funds and looked forward to working with lawmakers on the issue.

McSally and Barrett both stressed Wednesday that, despite being confirmed by the full senate, Barrett will not assume the role of secretary until the president signs off. But there appears to be little doubt that approval will be coming: A White House official applauded the confirmation Wednesday and said the president looks forward to working with Barrett as secretary of the Air Force.

“The USAF comes second to none and President Trump looks forward to working with her to continue advancing our Air Force capabilities and safeguarding our nation,” the statement said.

Barrett deferred on her first priority as secretary, noting that the title is not official yet, but she reiterated that her new role only means good things for her home state.

“Arizona is important to the Air Force and the Air Force is important to Arizona,” she said.