Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties

Aaron Schwartz

A pair of progressive House Democrats is urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate a Pentagon chief who has previously worked for a defense contractor.

“Respectfully, and in full agreement with your past statements, we write to request that the next secretary of Defense have no prior employment history with a defense contractor,” Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Biden released Thursday.

Pocan is the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Lee is the caucus’s chairwoman emeritus.

As House members, Pocan and Lee will not get a vote on Biden’s eventual nominee. But the letter signals the progressive position on the woman widely seen as Biden’s likely choice, Michèle Flournoy.

Flournoy, who was under secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration, co-founded consultant group WestExec Advisors, which counts defense contractors among its clients. She is also on the board of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Pocan and Lee’s letter does not mention Flournoy. Rather, they “strongly” urge Biden to “reject the mistaken nominations of the Trump era.”

Pocan and Lee cited the defense contractor ties of former Secretary Mark Esper, who worked for Raytheon before joining the administration; former acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who worked for Boeing; and former Secretary James Mattis, who served on the board at General Dynamics.

“Additionally, nearly half of all senior Defense Department officials are connected to military contractors,” they wrote. “Despite President Trump’s boast that he would ‘drain the swamp’ and hire ‘only the best people,’ he has continually failed to do so.”

Pocan and Lee also highlighted former President Eisenhower’s famed warning against the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex, writing that “it is unsurprising that the largest defense budgets in our nation’s history have come at a time during which senior defense personnel are intimately connected — through past, and future, employment — to the corporations profiting most from those very same budgets.”

“The transition from President Trump’s administration to yours promises to be the end of what you have called ‘the dark era,’ ” they added. “The legacy of Trump’s presidency will undoubtedly linger, but one way we can quickly distance the nation from the stain of his tenure is to immediately remove the profiteering ethos Donald Trump fostered throughout government.”

Tags Barbara Lee Biden cabinet Defense Department Donald Trump James Mattis Joe Biden Mark Esper Mark Pocan Patrick Shanahan Pentagon Secretary of Defense

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