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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 BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' 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 AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism 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 TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE’s first Pentagon chief, James MattisJames Norman MattisRejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats The soft but unmatched power of US foreign exchange programs The GOP senators likely to vote for Trump's conviction 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 SlotkinTwo men charged with making threatening calls to Michigan officials House Democrats request documents from DHS intelligence office about Jan. 6 attack Lawmakers mull domestic terrorism statute in wake of Jan. 6 attack 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 EscobarEl Paso shooting survivor deported to Mexico after traffic stop House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics MORE (Texas), Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' YouTube still pushing white supremacist videos: study Lawmakers grill NSA on years-old breach in the wake of massive Russian hack MORE (N.J.) and Susan WildSusan WildHouse Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military Democratic Women's Caucus members split endorsements for House campaign chief Democratic Rep. Susan Wild wins reelection in Pennsylvania 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.”