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Senator Frees Some USAF Promotions

Relenting to requests from the White House, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig cleared the way for the Senate to approve the promotions of 127 Air Force captains and majors. But he'll continue to stall promotions of higher-ranking officers in a showdown over planes for the Air National Guard in his state.

Craig's staff processed paperwork releasing the 127 nominees Wednesday night and they were scheduled for a Senate vote Thursday, said Will Hart, a spokesman for the Idaho Republican.

"Senator Craig is still reserving his right on the rest of these holds until we are able to come to a conclusion," Hart said.

Hart said holds remain in place on 85 colonels and generals, including Maj. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., who was picked to lead the Air Force Academy, which has been marred by a rape scandal in recent months; and Gen. Robert H. Foglesong, who has been nominated to be commander of American air forces in Europe.

Some Senate officials have put the number of officers' nominations on hold at nearly 400.

Senate rules allow any senator to delay action indefinitely on a nomination sent by the president for Senate confirmation.

Craig put the holds on the Air Force promotions nearly three weeks ago and vowed to stall them until the Air Force honors a commitment to add four C-130 transport planes to complete a squadron at Gowen Air National Guard Base in Boise.

Craig said he had worked in the past several years to secure $40 million in construction at the air base in anticipation of the planes being relocated. The additional planes would bolster the Boise airfield's standing in the coming round of military base closures scheduled for 2005.

Craig met with Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and White House representatives who acted as arbiters in the dispute, but no resolution was reached and there have been no meetings since, Hart said. There have been staff-level discussions.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has made it clear that the president wants the nominations to proceed.

"That's in part why the senator released the lower ranks of this field grade list in deference to the White House position, but they are working with us, so that is a positive," Hart said.

The dispute, first reported in Sunday's New York Times, has outraged Pentagon officials, who charge Craig has delayed important Air Force business over a minor home-state issue. One senior military official called Craig's actions blackmail, told the Times, "If we say yes to this, Katie bar the door."

Even officials in Idaho are puzzled by Craig's actions; the cargo planes have not been a major issue there.

"It's not something people here are tapping their fingers over, waiting for them to show up," Lt. Col. Tim Marsano, a spokesman for the Idaho National Guard, told the Times.

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