Three Democratic senators have come out against Joe Biden‘s pick to lead the Pentagon, saying they won’t vote for a congressional waiver that would let retired General Lloyd Austin serve as defense secretary.
The early opposition indicates a rocky confirmation process lies ahead for Austin, who would be the first black defense secretary if confirmed.
Senators Elizabeth Warren, Jon Tester and Richard Blumenthal expressed concern about having a retired general atop the traditionally civilian-led military. All of them also voted against a waiver for retired Marine Corps General Jim Mattis, when President Donald Trump nominated him as defense secretary.
‘I have great respect for Gen. Austin. His career has been exemplary, and I look forward to meeting him and talking to him more. But I opposed a waiver for General Mattis, and I will oppose a waiver for General Austin,’ she told CNN.
The other senators echoed her reasoning.
‘I didn’t for Mattis, so I probably wouldn’t for him,’ Tester said.
‘I have the deepest respect and admiration for General Austin,’ Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. ‘His nomination is exciting and historic. But I believe that a waiver of the seven-year rule would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control of a nonpolitical military.’
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said she will not vote for a waiver for Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon, joining two other Democratic senators in saying no
Senators Richard Blumenthal (left) and Jon Tester (right) expressed concern about having a retired general atop the traditionally civilian-led military
Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, needs a waiver to serve as Defense Secretary as he retired in 2016 and federal law requires a person to be at least seven years removed from the military; he would be the first African American to serve in that role if confirmed
Austin, a retired four-star Army general, needs a waiver as he retired in 2016 and federal law requires a person to be at least seven years removed from the military.
Biden will formally announce Austin’s selection at an event in Wilmington on Wednesday. The president-elect faced heavy pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus to pick an African American for the position.
He took the unusual step of touting Austin in an opinion piece for The Atlantic, where he sought to address the concerns about having a retired general sit atop the Pentagon.
‘I respect and believe in the importance of civilian control of our military and in the importance of a strong civil-military working relationship at DoD — as does Austin,’ he wrote.
‘Austin also knows that the secretary of defense has a different set of responsibilities than a general officer and that the civil-military dynamic has been under great stress these past four years. He will work tirelessly to get it back on track,’ Biden noted.
Other Democrats who opposed the Mattis waiver are being put in a tough position by Biden with his decision to nominate Austin.
‘I want to hear from the Biden administration, the Biden team, about why they feel this pick, with the necessary waiver, is so critical,’ said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a close Biden ally who opposed Mattis’ waiver. ‘I inherently trust the Biden administration on issues of national security in ways that I do not inherently trust the Trump administration. So I’m certainly — given that I’m a believer in his policy, I’m much more willing to give him deference.’
Others are making a play for time.
‘I want to give that some thought,’ Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said when asked about a waiver.
And some have indicated Austin could get their support.
‘Well I opposed the waiver on Mattis, but I have to tell you I was so impressed with his performance that I would consider a waiver for Austin,’ Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate’s second-highest ranking Democrat, said.
But Senator Charles Schumer, the top Democratic in the Senate, is noncommittal on Biden’s pick.
‘Well I’m gonna, I’m gonna have to study that. The bottom line is that Austin’s a very good nominee and we’ll figure out where to go from there. I haven’t talked to my colleagues yet about that I want to hear what they have to say,’ he said.
Joe Biden will formally announced Lloyd Austin’s nomination at an event in Wilmington today
The waiver requirement also brings the House of Representatives into the confirmation process – an area that is usually territory of the Senate, which is the only chamber that formally votes on confirmation.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to push through approval of a waiver for Biden, convincing her conference members in the process.
On the House side, Armed Services committee Chairman Adam Smith already expressed reservations. He had championed Michele Flournoy, who would have been the first woman to run the Pentagon.
Smith also opposed Mattis’ nomination and had asked him to testify before the Armed Services Committee before the congressional vote to grant him the waiver.
Mattis refused and Smith became an ardent opponent of him. Mattis’s waiver ultimately passed 81 to 17 in the Senate and 268 to 151 in the House.
Smith said Austin ‘should meet with members of the House Armed Services Committee so they can ask questions about civilian control of the military, and to be assured that General Austin is committed to this important principle.’
While nominees testify before the Senate during the confirmation process, it would be unusual for one to testify before the House. The Biden team hasn’t indicated if Austin will do so or not.
Additionally, Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michgian, a former senior Pentagon official who worked with Austin, said she isn’t convinced.
‘After the last four years, civil-military relations at the Pentagon definitely need to be rebalanced,’ Slotkin said. ‘General Austin has had an incredible career — but I’ll need to understand what he and the Biden Administration plan to do to address these concerns before I can vote for his waiver.’
Retired Marine Corps General Jim Mattis, President Donald Trump’s pick for Defense secretary, needed and was granted a congressional waiver to serve in that role
Several Republican lawmakers, however, said they would support a waiver for Austin – a move that could save his nomination.
‘I would do it in a heartbeat,’ said Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe, a Republican. ‘It’s not so much because of Austin. I don’t know him that well. I just never have believed that we should have to have that seven-year period in there. I just don’t believe that. I would support any of the waivers.’
Austin led U.S. Central Command and was the first black commander of CENTCOM. He was in charge of all U.S. military operations in the Middle East and previously was the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
He is a graduate of West Point.
After he retired, he served on the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor, and Tenet Healthcare.
Biden got to know Austin when he served as vice president and led Iraq policy for the Obama administration. Austin was a commander in the Middle East at the time.
Additionally, Austin was close to Beau Biden when Beau served on Austin’s staff in Iraq in 2008 and 2009.
The two men, both devout Catholics, attended Mass together, sitting side-by-side almost every Sunday, and they kept in touch after Beau returned from his deployment, Politico reported.