SPONSORED:

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 BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants 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: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE is a decorated leader who has led a distinguished career and is exceptionally qualified,” 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 (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 TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE’s first Defense secretary, 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.

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 WarrenPhilly city council calls on Biden to 'cancel all student loan debt' in first 100 days Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case Senators question Bezos, Amazon about cameras placed in delivery vans MORE (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDuckworth, Norton call for improved accessibility for the blind at FDR memorial Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers Rosen to lead Senate Democrats' efforts to support female candidates MORE (Ill.) and Republican Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonRepublicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks 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 SmithOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday Overnight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military MORE (D-Wash.) has also come out in strong support for Austin, despite opposing Mattis’s waiver four years ago.