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Senate panel advances Biden Pentagon nominee

Senate panel advances Biden Pentagon nominee
© Greg Nash

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved President Biden’s nominee for Defense secretary, as well as a waiver that would allow Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinCan a common bond of service unite our nation? Politics, not racism or sexism, explain opposition to Biden Cabinet nominees Pentagon releases training materials to address extremism MORE to take the job despite being a recently retired general.

The panel approved both the waiver and Austin’s nomination with two separate voice votes Thursday, two days after his confirmation hearing, the committee said in a news release.

The nomination and the waiver now head to the floor for full Senate approval. Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinPartisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo Democrats ask FBI for plans to address domestic extremism following Capitol attack MORE (D-Ill.) said Thursday a vote on the waiver could happen as soon as later in the day, while the committee said the confirmation vote would happen after Austin submits his written answers to supplemental questions from his confirmation hearing.

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The panel is expecting those answers from Austin to arrive later Thursday, a committee spokesperson said.

Because the waiver vote was done by voice, objections were not officially recorded, but at least four committee members previously said they would oppose the waiver: Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE (Mass.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthSenate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing MORE (Ill.) and Republican Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues The Memo: CPAC fires starting gun on 2024 Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike MORE (Ark.).

Austin needs the waiver because of a law requiring Defense secretaries to be out of uniform for at least seven years. Austin retired from the military in 2016.

Congress has twice waived the law, 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. Some lawmakers in both parties expressed apprehension about granting another waiver so soon, saying that would further erode the principle of civilian control of the military.

During his confirmation hearing, Austin sought to blunt any lingering concerns lawmakers had about granting the waiver, pledging in his opening statement to ensure strong civilian control of the military.

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“Let me say at the outset that I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” Austin said.

“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” he added.

Austin got an additional boost Wednesday after the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan MORE (D-R.I.), announced his support for Austin, despite saying four years ago he would not support another recently retired general after Mattis.

The House must also approve the waiver and is scheduled to vote on it Thursday afternoon.

Jordain Carney contributed.