Helms nomination for Space Command withdrawn
WASHINGTON — The nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, chosen by President Barack Obama to lead Air Force Space Command, is being withdrawn in the face of a sustained objection from a member of the Senate Armed Services committee, an official with the committee said Friday.
Air Force officials said Friday that Helms had requested retirement.
The withdrawal was first reported by Politico.
Helms’ progress toward the Space Command job was blocked by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who assailed Helms’ 2012 decision to grant clemency to an officer serving at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., who was convicted of aggravated sexual assault.
Helms’ decision drew attention after another Air Force three-star general overturned the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot, a case that focused intense attention on the growing problem of sexual assault in the military.
Helms, the first U.S. military woman to travel in space, flew on a several space shuttle missions and lived on the International Space Station.
But McCaskill said earlier this year that despite her qualifications, her clemency decision “sent a damaging message to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the military justice system.”
A group of senators led by Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., points to such cases as a reason to support a Senate bill that would remove authority over sexual assault prosecutions and sentences from commanders. But McCaskill opposes the move, saying commanders should retain the authority but be held accountable for their decisions.