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House chairman endorses Michele Flournoy for Biden's Pentagon chief

House chairman endorses Michele Flournoy for Biden's Pentagon chief
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is endorsing Michele Flournoy to be President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Myanmar military conducts violent night raids Confidence in coronavirus vaccines has grown with majority now saying they want it MORE’s Defense secretary, calling her “uniquely qualified.”

“I don't think I've said this publicly because I don't think it would have made any difference, but I certainly communicated to the Biden people that I think Michele Flournoy is hands down the best-qualified person for the job,” Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military MORE (D-Wash.) told reporters on a conference call Monday.

“That does not mean that she's the only person that could do the job,” he continued. “There are a lot of capable people that could more than adequately fill the position. But I think Michele Flournoy is uniquely qualified, having her experience as under secretary of policy, the work that she has done since.”

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Flournoy, who served as under secretary of Defense for policy in the Obama administration, was initially seen as a lock to be Biden’s Defense secretary, but as more time goes by without Biden naming a nominee, competition for the post has heated up.

Flournoy, who would be the first female Defense secretary, is still seen as the leading contender.

Black leaders have been urging Biden to nominate an African American, saying he has so far fallen short of his pledge for a racially diverse Cabinet. A Black Defense secretary would also be a historic first.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have thrown their support behind former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, though two CBC members — Reps. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownCongressional Black Caucus unveils '100 Day Plan' Lawmakers move to oust extremists from military Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack MORE (D-Md.) and Marc Veasy (D-Texas) — wrote to Biden last week supporting Flournoy.

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, a Black former commander of U.S. Central Command, has also been floated as a possible Defense secretary, but Congress would need to pass a waiver allowing him to serve in the role since he retired from the military less than the legally required seven years ago.

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Several outside progressive groups have also come out strongly against Flournoy. Among other concerns, they cite her split with Biden to support a troops surge in Afghanistan during the Obama administration, her alleged support for selling weapons to the Saudis until relatively recently and her co-founding of strategic risk consulting firm WestExec Advisors. Biden’s secretary of State choice, Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenState sanctions Ukrainian billionaire over alleged corruption Australian PM Morrison says Biden will join first-ever 'Quad' meeting Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China MORE, is the other co-founder of WestExec.

Several House Democrats have come out in support of Flournoy as opponents have become more vocal, including Armed Services members Brown, Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Lawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation MORE (R.I.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill Why labeling domestic extremists 'terrorists' could backfire Hillicon Valley: Google lifting ban on political ads | DHS taking steps on cybersecurity | Controversy over TV 'misinformation rumor mills' MORE (Calif.), Seth MoultonSeth MoultonLawmakers want Pentagon, DOJ to punish current, former military members who participated in riot House chairman endorses Michele Flournoy for Biden's Pentagon chief Trump critic: I am not afraid of Trump MORE (Mass.) and Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoProgressives fume over Senate setbacks More than 0K raised for Ohio mom arrested for leaving kids alone at motel to work GoFundMe set up for mother arrested after leaving kids alone while at work MORE (Ariz.).

In his comments Monday, Smith argued Flournoy is the most qualified candidate to handle confronting China and Russia, including questions about the balance of military power versus diplomacy. She is also best equipped, he said, to push through changes to grapple with a “technological revolution.”

“The Pentagon is the mother of all bureaucracies,” Smith said. “It takes a certain amount of understanding of bureaucracy in the Pentagon in order to make changes stick. Michele has that. Again, it's not to say there aren't other people that could fill the position well. But I think we have a clear case where she is the most qualified at this point.”

--Updated at 3:59 p.m.