Democrats Voice Concerns With Joe Biden's Pick To Lead Pentagon

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who is expected to be President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of defense, is drawing opposition from some Democratic senators because he’s only been retired from active duty for 4 years. Austin, a respected former commander of the U.S. military effort in Iraq and a member of Raytheon’s board of directors, would make history as the first Black American to lead the Pentagon. Biden has not formally announced his intention to nominate the retired general, but his plans to do so were reported this week by The New York Times and Politico. Defense secretaries are legally required to have been retired from active duty for at least 7 years. The law is meant to uphold the longstanding principle of civilian control of the military and to discourage political acts from active-duty military officers who may one day go on to lead the Pentagon. Congress voted to waive that requirement for President Donald Trump’s Pentagon chief, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, in 2017, however. Mattis was similarly out of the service for less than 7 years and was only the second nominee for whom a president requested a waiver in U.S. history. Seventeen members of the Democratic Senate caucus voted against approving the waiver for Mattis. Now, some of those same senators say they’re unlikely to do so for Austin, even though they approve of his nomination. “It is exciting and historic but I believe that a waiver of the 7 year rule would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Tuesday. “The principle is essential to our democracyit I think has to be applied unfortunately in this instance.” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) added: “I think this guy is gonna be a great secretary of defense. I just think that we ought to look at the rules.” Austin’s path to confirmation could ultimately hinge on the support of a mix of centrist Democrats and Republicans. Secretaries of defense have traditionally garnered wide bipartisan support in the Senate; Mattis was confirmed 98-1. “Although this is becoming a trend and I don’t like it, it is difficult to imagine voting for a Mattis waiver and not an Austin waiver,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told reporters on Tuesday. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who initially said he wouldn’t support a waiver for Austin, told reporters the quality of the nominee should be the top concern, but “the preference would be for someone who’s not recently retired.” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would first process Austin’s nomination, said he would support a waiver for Austin “in a heartbeat” because of his general opposition to the 7-year requirement. Asked whether he had any concerns with Austin, Inhofe said, “I really don’t.”

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