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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 AustinSunday shows preview: Manchin makes the rounds after pivotal role in coronavirus relief debate US proposes new summit with Taliban on interim Afghan government Overnight Defense: White House open to reforming war powers | Army base might house migrant children | Fauci scolds military on vaccine 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 DurbinSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants Senate inches toward COVID-19 vote after marathon session 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 WarrenSenate rejects Sanders minimum wage hike Philly 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 MORE (Mass.) and Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthFDA signals plan to address toxic elements in baby food White House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push Duckworth, Norton call for improved accessibility for the blind at FDR memorial MORE (Ill.) and Republican Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate to vote next week on Garland's AG nomination Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll 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 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.), 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.