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15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary

15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary
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A group of 15 former Defense officials on Monday sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee backing a waiver that would allow President-elect Joe Biden’s Defense secretary nominee, retired Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on race theory, 'white rage' MORE, to bypass a law barring recently retired generals from holding the civilian job.

The letter, first obtained by Fox News, was signed by former secretaries of Defense, including Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Afghan Air Force: When 'Buy American' goes wrong Overnight Defense: Navy medic killed after wounding 2 sailors in Maryland shooting | Dems push Biden for limits on military gear transferred to police | First day of talks on Iran deal 'constructive' 140 national security leaders call for 9/11-style panel to review Jan. 6 attack MORE and Leon Panetta, as well as former deputies and secretaries of armed service branches. 

The former officials cite multiple crises facing the country, including the coronavirus pandemic, “aggressive adversaries challenging us around the globe and in cyberspace; a rising China whose interests and values often do not align with ours; and a threat from domestic terrorism that has rarely been more clear or more dangerous.” 

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Thus, the group argues, “Now more than ever, we need an experienced, competent, organized, and respected Secretary of Defense,” and, “Every day that we do not have such a Secretary in place is a day that emboldens those who wish our nation harm.”

“As former senior civilian leaders of the Department of Defense, we believe that Secretary-Designate Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on race theory, 'white rage' MORE can lead effectively as a civilian,” the group writes to Senate committee leadership. “We urge the Congress to grant him a waiver from the 1947 National Security Act as quickly as possible.” 

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Under the 1947 law, Defense secretaries must be retired from the military for at least seven years before they can take the job. Austin retired in mid-2016.

The law has only been waived twice before, first for George Marshall in 1950 and most recently for 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 in 2017.

The letter came ahead of Austin’s confirmation hearing before the Senate committee on Tuesday. Prior to the hearing, the committee heard expert testimony on the 1947 law, and three Democrats at the hearing — Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden announces bipartisan infrastructure deal | DOJ backs Trump-era approval of Line 3 permit | Biden hits China on solar panels Progressives fire warning shot on bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan agriculture climate bill clears Senate MORE (Mass.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSenate Democrats call for FDA action on high levels of heavy metals in some baby food Taiwan reports incursion by dozens of Chinese warplanes Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans MORE (Ill.) — reiterated they oppose a waiver for Austin.

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedHouse lawmakers introduce bill to overhaul military justice system Pentagon chief backs change to military sexual assault prosecution Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have 'training issues' if not reimbursed MORE (R.I.), has expressed openness to the waiver, despite saying he wouldn’t support one again after Mattis.

The Republican Study Committee, which includes most GOP lawmakers, sent a memo to members and staff last week arguing that allowing a waiver for Austin shortly after one was granted to Mattis would set a “new dangerous precedent.”

“Furthermore, regardless of the ‘waiver,’ Gen. Austin is not the right person for the job of secretary of Defense,” the memo added. “He lacks civilian experience, has no experience in countering China, and has a track record of failures as the [Central Command] head in Syria and Iraq and in the war on ISIS. For all of these reasons, conservatives should not vote to grant a ‘waiver’ for Gen. Austin.”