Lawmakers balk at waiver for Biden’s defense secretary pick

Washington D.C.

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Continuing on his promised path to put together a highly diverse Cabinet, President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday announced his nominee for secretary of defense.

If confirmed, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin would be the first African American to hold the office.

“He’s the definition of duty, honor, country,” Biden said in introducing his choice. “There is no question that he is the right person for the job.”

“If confirmed by the United States Senate, it will be my sincere honor and privilege to return to the department and to lead our great service members,” Austin, who served 40 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a four-star general, said.

But confirmation is not a done deal. Some lawmakers are already balking because Austin has been retired for only four years, while the law requires at least seven years to ensure civilian control of the military.

Congress could grant a waiver, but not everyone is on board with doing so.

“I’ve got big problems with that,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said.

Some Democrats agree.

“It’s problematic,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., also a veteran, said. “If we did not have civilian control of the military, we’d be like any number of nations around the world where you have military juntas running the government.”

She said she would vote against the waiver, but not against confirming Austin.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he’ll listen to the concerns.

“Gen. Austin’s a very good nominee and we’ll figure out where we go from there,” he said.

Austin himself insists he is now a civilian.

“I hung up my uniform for the last time and went from being Gen. Lloyd Austin to Lloyd Austin,” he said.

He will get to make his case before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. That hearing is required as part of the path to the waiver.

Congress has approved waivers for defense secretary nominees only twice since the rule was created in 1947, including for President Donald Trump’s former Defense Secretary James Mattis. At the time, 17 Democrats, including Duckworth, opposed the move.

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