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 BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill 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 SmithHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill Stumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE's uphill climb of nuclear modernization Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget 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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BrownHouse panel advances 8B defense bill Democrats defeat GOP effort to declare 'lost confidence' in Biden after Afghanistan withdrawal House panel approves B boost for defense budget 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BlinkenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Low-lying countries plead for action to avoid climate change 'death sentence' French diplomat says 'time and actions' needed to restore ties with US 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. LangevinBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader House panel approves B boost for defense budget Democratic lawmakers urge DHS to let Afghans stay in US MORE (R.I.), Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierJimmy and Rosalynn Carter celebrate 75th anniversary, longest-married presidential couple Military braces for sea change on justice reform House panel plans mid-July consideration of military justice overhaul MORE (Calif.), Seth MoultonSeth MoultonHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (Mass.) and Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Final countdown: Senate inches toward last infrastructure vote Arizona state senator arrested on charges of sexual conduct with a minor House Democrats introduce bill restoring voting provision after SCOTUS ruling 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.