WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Monday approved the nomination of former congresswoman Heather Wilson to become the secretary of the Air Force in a bipartisan 76-22 vote.
Twenty-five Democrats joined with the 51 Republicans who voted "yes" for Wilson. All 22 "no" votes were Democrats.
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will consider the nominations of David Norquist to be defense undersecretary/comptroller; Robert Daigle to be director of cost assessment and program evaluation at the Defense Department and Elaine McCusker to be principal deputy defense undersecretary/comptroller.
Wilson is expected to be sworn within a week, according to the Air Force.
"We live in a remarkable country, protected by innovators and intrepid Airmen who take great risks on our behalf," she said in a statement. "I look forward to getting to work, focusing on readiness, modernization, development of leaders and research for the future."
The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, opposed Wilson in a Senate floor speech ahead of the vote Monday, expressing "deep concerns" over ethical questions in her past.
Reed focused on allegations that as a congresswoman, Wilson allegedly pressured a federal prosecutor investigating corruption cases in New Mexico. He also questioned her on work she performed as a private contractor for Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sandia National Laboratories without providing evidence any work was done.
Reed said Wilson gave evasive answers during her confirmation hearing March 30, which "reluctantly led me to conclude, while Dr. Wilson has excellent academic qualifications, I must vote against her nomination before full Senate."
He also voted against Wilson in a 22-5 committee vote on April 5.
Wilson, a Republican representative of New Mexico from 1998 to 2009, served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, in Rapid City, since 2013.
Wilson takes the Air Force's top civilian job as it replaces many of its major weapons systems and grapples with readiness problems. Over the next four years, the Air Force will buy new fighters and training jets, recapitalize key command-and-control platforms, and modernize two legs of the nuclear triad, among other critical procurement programs. At the same time, the service is struggling to retain pilots and maintainers, and is stretching forces between combatant commander demands and training for high-end combat scenarios.
She replaces Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the Air Force, who became undersecretary of the Air Force under President Obama in 2016.
Wilson is one of the first female graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England. She authored the book "International Law and the use of Force by the National Liberation Movement," which was published while she served as director of defense policy and arms control for the National Security Council, under President George H.W. Bush.
As a member of the House, Wilson served on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, as well as the Committee of Energy and Commerce. She subsequently lost races against Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats from New Mexico.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a strong supporter of Wilson's, and said in an April 7 floor speech that Wilson distinguished herself as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and is "a person of great intellect, strong management and superlative character."
Wilson's nomination hit a snag earlier this month when Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., placed a brief hold on her while seeking answers to questions about a facility in her state.
A spokesman for Murray did not return multiple requests for comment, but she slammed the Air Force in January for passing over Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., as a prime location for the KC-46A Pegasus aerial tanker.
Valerie Insinna contributed to this report.