Warren says she will vote against waiver for Biden’s Pentagon pick

Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Tuesday that she will oppose granting a waiver to retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon. 

“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 Gen. [James] Mattis, and I will oppose a waiver for Gen. Austin,” Warren told reporters. 

Biden officially nominated Austin as his Defense secretary on Tuesday. If confirmed, he’ll be the United States’s first Black Defense secretary. He previously served as the first Black chief of U.S. Central Command from 2013 to 2016. 

But Austin’s nomination comes with baggage, including that he has not been retired from the military for as long as the law requires a Defense secretary to be.  

Both chambers in Congress will need to pass a waiver exempting Austin from the law mandating that a Defense secretary must be retired from active service for at least seven years before assuming the top civilian role unless Congress grants a waiver. Austin retired in 2016.

Congress previously granted former Mattis a waiver, a move many argued at the time was a one-off driven by his qualifications. 

Biden’s decision to tap a former general for the Pentagon’s top civilian position has sparked uneasiness among some Democrats about the erosion of civilian control of the military. 

Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Austin an “outstanding nominee” but said the “burden of proof” for granting the waiver was on the incoming Biden administration. 

“I think the preference would be for someone who is not recently retired,” Reed said. 

Seventeen Democrats voted in 2017 against giving Mattis a waiver. 

In addition to Warren, two other Senate Democrats have already signaled they will oppose voting to grant Austin a waiver. In addition to voting on the waiver, the Senate would hold a separate vote on confirming Austin to be Defense secretary. 

“I have the deepest respect and administration for Gen. Austin and this nomination, and this 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 over a nonpolitical military,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters on Tuesday.   

Blumenthal declined to say if he believed Biden should nominate someone else but added, “I will not support the waiver.”  

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), another one of the 17 “no” votes in 2017, said on Tuesday that he was also unlikely to support granting Austin a waiver.

“I didn’t for Mattis, and I don’t think I will for him,” Tester said, referring to Austin.

“I love Mattis. I thought Mattis was a great secretary. And I think this guy is gonna be a great secretary of Defense. I just think that we ought to look at the rules,” he added.

Tags Biden Cabinet picks Defense Secretary defense secretary waiver Elizabeth Warren Jack Reed James Mattis Joe Biden Jon Tester

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