Left in Limbo, a Handful of Biden’s Defense Picks Await Senate Action
Four nominees—all people of color—received committee approval months ago but have yet to get a Senate vote.
The six remaining Biden administration nominees for the Defense Department's Senate-confirmed posts have been waiting so long that they required renomination in a new legislative session.
The four longest-in-limbo nominees—all people of color—were approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee last year, but were not sent onward for a vote by the full Senate. As has become general practice, their nominations were returned to the president after the 2022 session ended. Renominated by the White House on Jan. 3, they are:
- Ravi Chaudhary, for assistant Air Force secretary for installations, environment and energy. The longest in limbo of Biden’s defense picks, Chaudhary was nominated in December 2021 and approved in committee on May 9, 2022, though some GOP lawmakers looked askance at his call, since recanted, to use AI to spot extremists in uniform.
- Lester Martinez-Lopez, for assistant defense secretary for health affairs, has been awaiting confirmation since January 2022. His nomination was approved by the SASC in May.
- Radha Plumb, for deputy defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment. Nominated in June, Plumb received her confirmation hearing and a thumbs-up from the SASC in September. But Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, placed a hold on her to press the Biden administration about a mine project in Alaska.
- Laura Taylor-Kale, for assistant defense secretary for industrial base policy. Nominated in May, she, like Plumb, received SASC approval in September but was placed on hold by Sullivan.
Two other nominees, both tapped in September and renominated on Jan. 3, have yet to receive confirmation hearings:
- Nickolas Guertin, for assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition. Guertin was nominated to fill a post that has been without a permanent occupant since the Trump administration’s James “Hondo” Geurts.
- Ronald T. Keohane, for assistant defense secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.
On Monday, one nominee was plucked from the pack of renominations and confirmed by the full Senate: Brendan Owens, assistant defense secretary for energy, installations, and environment. Nominated in March, Owens received committee approval in September, and was returned to the president and renominated on Jan. 3.
Once Owens is sworn in, all but nine of the 68 Defense Department jobs that require Senate confirmation will be filled, according to the Washington Post’s nominee tracker: the six awaiting Senate action, and three that still lack a nominee.
It’s not clear why the four committee-approved nominees have not received a full vote; the holds placed on them appear to be not personal but GOP efforts to pressure the Biden administration on various issues.
But on Tuesday arose a new threat to the nominees’ progress—and this time from a Democrat. On Jan. 24, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., threatened to delay the remaining Pentagon nominees because, as Defense News reported, “Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin refuses to meet with him over the Trump administration’s decision to move U.S. Space Command from its current location in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama.”