BIDEN PICK FOR SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CAUGHT CONGRESS OFF GUARD AND THAT IS NOT GOOD
TrueNewsBlog – TNB
U.S. Politics – December 8, 2020
By: Nathaniel Ballantyne
The post of Secretary of Defense is made for a civilian and most people feel better when a civilian is at the helm at the pentagon. But when a former military general like Jon Mattis or Lloyd Austin is appointed, the law requires a waiver when the cooling period has not expired. So, Lloyd Austin may need a waiver which means that he will have to testify in the House of Representatives.
JOE BIDEN’s pick for the Pentagon would have needed Senate approval anyway. But by selecting retired four-star general LLOYD AUSTIN for the post, Biden’s nominee now has to go through the Senate and the House. In their dogged efforts to prevent leaks, the Biden team has left some Congressional offices blindsided. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which had been relentlessly pushing Biden to nominate an African American to head the Pentagon, appeared caught off guard and scrambled to express support for the pick Tuesday.
House Armed Services Chair ADAM SMITH (D-Wash.) was notified about Biden’s pick, but the Biden team did not have a “fulsome discussion” with him about the actual waiver process, according to a senior House aide familiar with the conversations.
“He has previously been clear that we should not override the statute to allow former general officers to serve as the Secretary of Defense before the end of the cooling off period,” said the aide. “There has not been additional outreach about the waiver process.”
Smith, who publicly backed MICHÉLE FLOURNOY for the Pentagon hours before news of Biden’s pick broke Monday night, could gum up the works. In 2017 when Democrats were in the minority, he insisted that JAMES MATTIS testify before the committee in order to get a waiver. Mattis didn’t and Smith became a fierce opponent of the waiver.
Smith told MSNBC this afternoon that Biden’s team agreed to a hearing, but the transition team did not respond to questions about whether they had promised that. The transition did say that Austin was looking forward to speaking with Congressional leadership including House and Senate Armed Service Committee members.
Smith isn’t the only one with reservations. “[C]hoosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off,” Smith’s fellow Armed Services Committee member, Rep. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-Mich.), wrote on Twitter. “The job of secretary of defense is purpose-built to ensure civilian oversight of the military.”
A number of Senate Democrats who opposed a waiver for Mattis in 2017 such as Sens. JON TESTER (Mont.) and RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (Conn.) signaled they would likely not support a waiver this time either.
Austin is the latest pick in the last week to face some immediate headwinds on the Hill. NEERA TANDEN, his nominee for OMB, was essentially declared DOA by the No. 2 Senate Republican, JOHN CORNYN. Biden’s HHS pick, XAVIER BECERRA, is also facing blowback for not having sufficient experience in health care.
The Biden team seemed to realize they had a problem with Austin Tuesday, rushing out an opinion piece in The Atlantic explaining why the president-elect chose the four-star general for the job (something Biden didn’t feel the need to do for, say, JANET YELLEN).
Biden tried to address the concerns about a possible waiver in The Atlantic piece. “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 wrote. “He will work tirelessly to get it back on track.” Well let’s hope so!