Confirmation hearing for Biden Pentagon chief pick set for Jan. 19

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The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of Defense the day before Biden’s inauguration, the panel announced Thursday.

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin will face the panel at 3 p.m. Jan. 19, the committee said in a news release.

In addition to needing Senate confirmation, Austin will need both the Senate and House to approve a waiver for him to bypass a law requiring Defense secretaries be out-of-uniform for at least seven years. Austin has only been retired from the military for four years.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will also hold a hearing Tuesday with outside experts testifying about the waiver and civilian control of the military.

The House Armed Services Committee has not announced when it will hold a hearing on Austin’s waiver. Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has said it is imperative Austin testify before his panel before the House votes on the waiver.

Because of the House calendar, which has lawmakers out of session until Inauguration Day, and the chamber’s rules, the panel is not expected to have its hearing until the day after the inauguration at the earliest.

“In each new Congress there are a number of procedural hurdles that must be cleared prior to formal committee activity,” committee spokesperson Monica Matoush said in a statement to The Hill. “Currently, the committee is awaiting the full slate of members who have been assigned a seat on [the committee] by their respective party leadership. Until all members are named, the committee cannot convene an organizing meeting, as is required prior to any formal activity.”

Defense News first reported the committee couldn’t hold its hearing until at least Jan. 21.

The time constraints mean Biden likely will not have his Defense secretary confirmed on the first day of his presidency, as has been tradition for key national security roles. Still, Austin is the first of Biden’s picks to have his confirmation hearing officially scheduled, signaling the importance lawmakers place on national security nominees.

On Wednesday, after Democrats gained control of the Senate by winning two runoff elections in Georgia, Biden said in a statement that his nominees for “critical national security positions,” including Defense secretary, “need to be in their jobs as soon as possible after Jan. 20.”

Some Democrats have expressed unease about granting Austin waiver so soon after they approved one for President Trump’s first Defense secretary, James Mattis.

Mattis was only the second person the law was waived for since it was enacted in 1947. George Marshall received a waiver in 1950.

House Democrats largely opposed Mattis’s waiver after Trump would not let him testify before the House Armed Services Committee prior to the vote. But they are in a tough spot with Austin, in part because he would be the nation’s first Black secretary of Defense.

Updated at 6:29 p.m.

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump James Mattis Joe Biden Lloyd Austin

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