Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a solid supporter of Boeing on the tanker issue, has lifted her hold on the nomination of Michael Donley to be Secretary of the Air Force. Cantwell's spokeswoman, Ciaran Clayton, called me yesterday evening to say that Cantwell had received classified information about the tanker that she had requested from the Pentagon. So, Clayton said, the senator was wiling to drop the hold.
This clears the way for Donley to be made secretary if the Senate Armed Forces Committee can sit down quickly and move it to the full Senate for a vote. With less than 50 days left to the administration it may strike some as a bit quixotic to get Donley through the process. But Defense Secretary Gates thought it important enough to lead off his opening statement to the committee on Tuesday, saying he wanted to “encourage this committee” to move Donley's nomination (and Gen. William Fraser to be the service’s vice chief of staff) "as soon as possible." The fact is that someone who is a confirmed official carries more weight in his dealings because everyone knows the Senate has given its approval.
I think Cantwell had lost support from her colleagues for her hold and made the tactical choice to drop it once she got the classified info. Even one congressional aide couldn't believe the senator had kept her hold on Donley when I mentioned it Tuesday: "Why? They canceled the program and postponed action on the tanker. What more could she want?"
Now we see if the Senate can move this before everyone leaves for the elections.