Biden officially taps retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as Pentagon nominee

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President-elect Biden has officially named retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his nominee to be Secretary of Defense.

Biden made the announcement Tuesday afternoon after news first broke Monday night he would pick Austin to be the nation’s first Black Defense secretary.

“Gen. Austin shares my profound belief that our nation is at its strongest when we lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Biden said in a statement.

“Throughout his lifetime of dedicated service — and in the many hours we’ve spent together in the White House Situation Room and with our troops overseas — Gen. Austin has demonstrated exemplary leadership, character and command,” Biden added.

Austin retired from the military in 2016 after serving as the commander of U.S. Central Command since 2013.

His military career also includes time as the commanding U.S. general in Iraq and as the vice chief of the staff of the Army.

Austin was initially seen as a long-shot candidate to be Defense secretary, but he emerged as the leading contender as Biden faced pressure from Black leaders to select an African American nominee. Biden and Austin developed a relationship during the Obama administration, including the then-vice president attending Austin’s change-of-command ceremony in Iraq in 2010.

“He is uniquely qualified to take on the challenges and crises we face in the current moment, and I look forward to once again working closely with him as a trusted partner to lead our military with dignity and resolve, revitalize our alliances in the face of global threats, and ensure the safety and security of the American people,” Biden said.

In getting the nod, Austin beat out Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense in the Obama administration, who earlier had been seen as a top candidate for the job.

Flournoy congratulated Austin on Tuesday, calling him “a man of deep integrity who has spent a lifetime in service to our country.”

“Gen. Austin is a colleague and friend, and I know he will bring his impressive skills to bear to lead all those who volunteer to defend our country, military and civilian, at this critical moment in our nation’s history,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to helping him and the President-elect succeed in any way that I can.”

But Austin is already running into hurdles on Capitol Hill. The law requires Defense secretaries to be out of the military for at least seven years, meaning Congress has to pass a waiver to allow Austin to take the job.

Lawmakers approved a waiver for 2017 in James Mattis for Defense secretary, but warned at the time they would be disinclined to do so again.

On Tuesday, two Senate Democrats signaled opposition to a waiver for Austin.

“I have the deepest respect and administration for General 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.), who opposed Mattis’s waiver, told reporters.

“That principle is essential to our democracy. That’s the reason for the statute which I think has to be applied, unfortunately, in this instance,” he added.  

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 Senate “no” votes in 2017, also said Tuesday he was 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. 

Tags 2020 election Biden transition Defense Secretary James Mattis Joe Biden Jon Tester Pentagon

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