Top Senate Democrat backs waiver for Biden Pentagon nominee

Top Senate Democrat backs waiver for Biden Pentagon nominee
© AP/Pool

The incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee announced Wednesday that he will support President BidenJoe BidenDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized Pfizer to apply for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: report Coronavirus variant raises fresh concerns for economy MORE’s pick for Defense secretary, despite warning four years ago he would not support allowing another recently retired general to take the job.

Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Four-star general to lead Pentagon investigation into Syria airstrike that killed dozens Pentagon rejects Oklahoma's request to exempt Guard from vaccine mandate MORE is a decorated leader who has led a distinguished career and is exceptionally qualified,” Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Senate GOP expected to block defense bill amid stalemate MORE (D-R.I.) said in a statement released the day of Biden's inauguration.

“He has demonstrated a clear commitment to civilian control of the military,” Reed added. “I will support his historic nomination and believe he will restore direction to a Pentagon that has been left rudderless and adrift for too long under the previous administration. His character and integrity are unquestioned and he possesses the knowledge and skill to effectively lead the Pentagon.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Reed’s announcement is unsurprising after he has been signaling in recent weeks he was leaning toward supporting Austin, who would be the nation’s first Black secretary of Defense.

But the strong endorsement from the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee is the latest sign Austin will be able to overcome lingering concerns from some lawmakers and ultimately be confirmed.

Reed’s statement is also notable because four years ago he bluntly stated he would not support another waiver to allow a recently retired general to lead the Pentagon after supporting one for former President TrumpDonald TrumpPence: Supreme Court has chance to right 'historic wrong' with abortion ruling Prosecutor says during trial that actor Jussie Smollett staged 'fake hate crime' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE’s first Defense secretary, James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE.

Under a 1947 law meant to ensure civilian control of the military, Defense secretaries must have been out-of-uniform for at least seven years. Austin retired from the military in mid-2016.

The law has been waived twice before, most recently for Mattis in 2017.

“Waiving the law should happen no more than once in a generation,” Reed said after supporting Mattis’s waiver. “Therefore, I will not support a waiver for future nominees. Nor will I support any effort to water down or repeal the statute in the future.”

But in his statement Wednesday, Reed said he believe Austin is the right person to lead the Pentagon amid an “unprecedented set of challenges.”

“I backed the waiver for General Mattis in large part because of Donald Trump’s inexperience and temperament and had no intention of supporting another waiver so soon. That rationale seems almost quaint now considering the seismic forces we are currently facing,” he said.

“We have troops deployed around the world who face life threatening dangers every day and need leadership and stability,” he added. “Our nation is also facing a worsening pandemic and civil unrest. There is no question this confirmation has taken on increased urgency. Joe Biden is working to restore faith and good order in government as he protects the nation and upholds democratic norms. He must have a well-qualified, Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense in place to help him meet complex and volatile national security challenges.”

Austin faced the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, where he sought to assuage any concerns about civilian control of the military under his leadership.

ADVERTISEMENT

A handful of senators — including Democrats Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Restless progressives eye 2024 Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run MORE (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthWisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' Duckworth touts drinking water infrastructure funds in bipartisan bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Appeals court delays Trump document ruling; Biden to meet Xi MORE (Ill.) and Republican Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks China draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai MORE (Ark.) — have announced they will oppose the waiver. But Austin is ultimately expected to be confirmed as senators in both parties have also expressed their support for him, though the Senate has not announced when it will vote on his waiver or nomination.

The House must also approve Austin’s waiver and is scheduled to vote on it Thursday after the House Armed Services Committee holds a closed-door meeting with Austin.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithSenate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On steel and aluminum trade, Trumpism still rules Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon vows more airstrike transparency MORE (D-Wash.) has also come out in strong support for Austin, despite opposing Mattis’s waiver four years ago.