Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday expressed skepticism that Lloyd J. Austin III, a retired four-star army general who is the choice of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. for Secretary of Defense, should be given a congressional waiver necessary to fulfill this role.
The waiver, which is the subject of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, is required for any Pentagon chief who has been removed from active military service for less than seven years. Mr Austin, who would be the country’s first black defense secretary, retired in 2016.
Congress approved a similar measure four years ago for President Trump’s First Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Navy officer. But many Republicans seem reluctant to grant that to Mr Biden’s choice, and Democrats, long skeptical of the practice, have not seemed uniformly motivated by the case to do it again, either, despite the historic nature of the practice. appointment of Mr. Austin.
“This is a very deep and difficult question,” said Independent Senator Angus King of Maine. “General Austin is well qualified,” Mr. King said, “but on the other hand, the very idea of civilian control of the military is a fundamental part of what is.”
New York Democrat Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has suggested that two presidents in a row have created “a new rationale” for such a waiver, setting a bad precedent. Senators Tammy Duckworth, Democrat from Illinois and veteran of the Iraq War, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, said they would reject the waiver, with Ms Warren saying, “I believe in this principle.”
While outgoing committee chair Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, made it clear he would support the waiver and did not really believe in the requirement, other Republicans did not seem convinced.
Mr Biden had not provided “a full logic or explanation as to why he once again asked us to move away from what was the established law,” said Republican Senator Mike Rounds. of South Dakota, which previously approved such a waiver for President Trump. candidate. “I’m torn over this.”
Several other senators from both parties made similar comments, although Ms Warren and others said a vote against a waiver did not mean they would vote against confirming Mr Austin.
Transition officials in the new Biden administration have repeatedly expressed confidence in his confirmation and approval of the waiver, and urged members to speed up the confirmation process for their national security candidates in general.
Mr Austin did not attend the hearing, and the vote on the waiver issue – necessary for both the House and the Senate – will likely not take place until the Senate confirmation hearings begin the next day. next week.