Joe Biden has reportedly selected Lloyd Austin III, a retired four-star Army general, as his nominee for defense secretary. This news has been confirmed by CNN.
If he is in fact confirmed, Austin will become the first Black leader of the defense department. Yet, his nomination will likely face some pushback since it will require a waiver from Congress due to his recent military service.
According to Title 10 of the United States Code, a waiver is required if the nominee has been a military officer in the last seven years. General Austin retired from the Army in May 2016.
The waiver requires approval by Senate and House majorities, as well as the president’s signature. Republicans will no doubt recall that when President Trump had nominated former Marine General Jim Mattis, 17 Democrats including three Senators on the Armed Services Committee, Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, had voted against it.
Jack Reed, (D-RI), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee had said at the time that, “waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation. Therefore I will not support a waiver for future nominees. Nor will I support any effort to water down or repeal the statute in the future.” Reed had stated that civilians, not military members should be leading the Pentagon.
Austin certainly has plenty of experience. He served in a variety of leadership positions including in Afghanistan and Iraq, among them were:
- Assistant Division Commander, 3rd Infantry Division (Iraq)
- Division Commander, 10th Mountain Division-Light (Afghanistan)
- Commander, Multi-National Corps (Iraq)
- Director, Joint Staff
- Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
- Commander U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)
Austin had had contentious meetings with Congress regarding the push to create an anti-ISIS force. The plan was for this force to have thousands of fighters, yet it only produced a handful. There were also reports that Austin had disparaged the prospects for ISIS, which had prompted President Obama to call them “terrorism’s JV team.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had said that in his 30 years on the committee, “I have never heard testimony like this… Never.”
He had added, “I have never seen a hearing that is as divorced from the reality of every outside expert and what you are saying.”
Then-Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo had said that CENTCOM’s “most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command’s intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq.”
California Rep. Adam Schiff had added that Central Command, “[had] created an overly insular process for producing intelligence assessments on ISIL and Iraqi Security Forces,” which “stalled the release of intelligence products,” undermined analyst morale, and “insufficiently accommodated dissenting views.”
Austin recently emerged as one of the top candidates after initially being viewed as a long shot for the job. Michèle Flournoy, Obama’s former Pentagon policy chief, was initially viewed as the frontrunner, but apparently, she fell out of favor with the Biden transition team.
With many members of the Black Caucus calling to the Biden transition team to add more African-Americans to higher positions in the administration, Austin was the choice to head up the Pentagon. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was also considered for the job.
Nevertheless, it seems that Austin’s confirmation will hardly be a slam dunk.