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House chairman: Biden Pentagon pick 'shares my commitment to civilian control of the military'

House chairman: Biden Pentagon pick 'shares my commitment to civilian control of the military'
© Greg Nash

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Biden lifting Trump's transgender military ban Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE (D-Wash.) gave his full backing Friday to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE’s nominee to be Defense secretary, saying an “extensive conversation” reassured him.

The House normally has no say in nominees, which are confirmed by the Senate. But Biden’s Pentagon pick, retired Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOn The Money: Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary | Biden says he's open to tighter income limits for stimulus checks | Administration will look to expedite getting Tubman on bill Overnight Defense: Biden lifts Trump's transgender military ban | Democrats, advocates celebrate end of ban | 5,000 guardsmen staying in DC through mid-March Senate confirms Yellen as first female Treasury secretary MORE, needs both the House and Senate to approve a waiver to a law that bars recently retired generals from leading the Defense Department.

Austin retired from the military four years ago, and the law requires Defense secretaries be out-of-uniform for at least seven years.

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“Before meeting with Secretary-designate Austin today, I already knew he was a proven leader with the deep experience – both professional and personal – required to be an effective secretary of Defense. Yet, the nomination of another recently retired general to lead the Department of Defense also gave me pause,” Smith said in a statement Friday.

“Following our extensive conversation today, I am reassured that Secretary-designate Austin shares my commitment to civilian control of the military and will do what it takes to uphold this cherished principle once confirmed by the Senate,” Smith added.

Smith also confirmed his panel is planning to hold a hearing with Austin about the waiver Jan. 21, one day after Biden’s inauguration.

A spokesperson for Smith previously said Jan. 21 was the earliest the committee could hold the hearing because of the House calendar and rules governing committee business.

The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Thursday it will hold Austin’s confirmation hearing the day before the inauguration.

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It is tradition for key national security jobs to be confirmed on Day 1 of a new presidency, and Biden has urged senators to confirm his nominees for secretary of Defense, State, Treasury and Homeland Security as close to Jan. 20 as possible.

But the timing of the House hearing all but assures Austin will not be confirmed on Inauguration Day, short of House leadership leapfrogging its Armed Services Committee to bring the waiver to a vote before a hearing.

In a letter Friday, 10 Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee warned Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOklahoma man who videotaped himself with his feet on desk in Pelosi's office during Capitol riot released on bond House formally sends impeachment to Senate, putting Trump on trial for Capitol riot With another caravan heading North, a closer look at our asylum law MORE (D-Calif.) against expediting Austin’s waiver and circumventing the panel.

“An issue of such historical significance cannot be rushed,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), wrote to Pelosi. “As members of the House Armed Services Committee, we urge the waiver process to receive full time for deliberation, including committee hearings, a committee vote, and a recorded vote on the House floor.”

Some lawmakers in both parties have expressed unease about granting Austin a waiver so soon after they approved one for President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE’s first Defense secretary, James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Senate confirms Austin to lead Pentagon under Biden Overnight Defense: House approves waiver for Biden's Pentagon nominee | Biden to seek five-year extension of key arms control pact with Russia | Two more US service members killed by COVID-19 MORE.

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

Most House Democrats, including Smith, 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.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Congressional leaders present Biden, Harris with flags flown during inauguration LIVE INAUGURATION COVERAGE: Biden signs executive orders; press secretary holds first briefing MORE (D-Md.) also said Friday he was reassured after a meeting with Austin and would support a waiver after a House Armed Services hearing.

“I congratulated General Austin on the historic nature of his nomination and expressed my strong support for granting the waiver necessary for him to be confirmed as secretary once the House Armed Services Committee has held a hearing to review the issue of civilian control of the military,” Hoyer said in a statement. “I was reassured by Gen. Austin’s commitment to respecting the bedrock principle of civilian control of the military and his focus on prioritizing support to service members and their families.”