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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 AustinPentagon chief calls on military to reaffirm values, ethical conduct Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting 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 Hagel15 former Defense officials back waiver for Austin to serve as Defense secretary The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history John Kirby to reprise role as Pentagon press secretary under Biden 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 AustinPentagon chief calls on military to reaffirm values, ethical conduct Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting 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 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 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 Health Care: Biden says US will have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May | Biden calls on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March | Texas, Mississippi lift mask mandates Biden picks for financial agencies offer preview of regulatory agenda Becerra tells Warren he will do 'thorough review' of executive actions on drug prices MORE (Mass.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Pro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Duckworth calls for Russian bounties intelligence to be declassified MORE (Ill.) — reiterated they oppose a waiver for Austin.

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting CORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report 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.”