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House Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military

House Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military
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A group of six House Democrats is pushing President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE’s Defense secretary nominee to make commitments on civilian control of the military as he seeks to bypass a law barring recently retired generals from the job.

The law requires Defense secretaries to be out of the military for at least seven years, but Biden’s nominee, retired Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Pentagon pulling 'certain forces and capabilities,' including air defenses, from Middle East US officials: Iranian ships changing course away from Venezuela MORE, has been out for only four years.

That means Congress needs to pass a waiver for him to have the job, a fact that has made some Democrats uneasy about the pick. But Democrats are also in a tough spot, in part because Austin would be the nation’s first Black secretary of Defense.

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“We have tremendous respect for your experience, your talent, and your service to our nation. We are grateful for your willingness to continue that service. And we recognize the truly historic nature of your nomination, especially at a time that so many segments of our society, including the military, are confronting issues of equality and justice,” the six House Democrats wrote in a letter to Austin released Tuesday.

“But separate from your exceptional qualifications, your selection raises fundamental issues that go beyond any one nomination, no matter how qualified or historic the nominee,” they added.

Congress has only twice approved a waiver for a recently retired general to be Defense secretary. The most recent time was just four years ago with President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE’s first Pentagon chief, James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden's is not a leaky ship of state — not yet Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs MORE.

House Democrats largely opposed Mattis’s waiver after Trump would not let him testify before the House Armed Services Committee prior to the vote.

Biden has defended choosing a recently retired general, saying both he and Austin “believe in the importance of civilian control of the military,” while Austin has pledged to approach the job as a civilian.

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The letter to Austin was organized by Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinDemocrats seize on GOP opposition to Jan. 6 commission Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge Facebook to abandon 'Instagram for kids' plan | 'Homework gap' likely to persist after pandemic Legislation to secure critical systems against cyberattacks moves forward in the House MORE (D-Mich.), a former Pentagon official who tweeted after Biden announced his choice that choosing another retired general as Defense secretary “just feels off.”

The letter was co-signed by Democratic Reps. Colin Allred (Texas), Salud CarbajalSalud CarbajalCapitol riots spark fear of Trump's military powers in final days House Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (Calif.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarAbbott signs bill making concealed carry without permits legal in Texas Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe Gun violence: Save the thoughts and prayers, it's time for Senate action MORE (Texas), Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiOvernight Health Care: Biden 'very confident' in Fauci amid conservative attacks | House Dems press Biden on global vaccinations | CDC director urges parents to vaccinate adolescents House Democrats call on Biden to do 'much more' to vaccinate the world Rep. Malinowski traded as much as M in medical, tech stocks with stake in COVID-19 response MORE (N.J.) and Susan WildSusan WildCongress should cut military aid to the Philippines Democrats plot next move after GOP sinks Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Infrastructure, Greene consume Washington MORE (Pa.). All six on the letter are members of the House Armed Services or Foreign Affairs committees.

In addition to expressing concern about approving another waiver so soon after Mattis, the lawmakers argued that the “last four years have brought the further erosion of civilian-military relations across the Department of Defense.”

“A wide range of scholars and national security experts have expressed concern that civilian voices have been increasingly excluded from the development and execution of national security policy,” they wrote.

The lawmakers requested a meeting with Austin before voting on the waiver and asked for him to make six commitments to rebalance civil-military relations at the Pentagon.

Among them, the lawmakers asked for senior positions at the Pentagon to be filled with qualified civilians; for another senior civilian to be brought in on decisions typically made by the secretary, deputy secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and vice chairman; and for Austin to “rebalance” the relationship between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff.

“We celebrate your historic nomination and your significant qualifications for the job of Secretary of Defense,” they wrote. “But we also recognize the importance of our responsibilities, as members of Congress, to preserve the norms and standards that have served our country for decades. Your response would aid us as we consider a waiver, and demonstrate your commitment to preserving the role of civilians in our most solemn responsibility of protecting the country.”