Defense

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 Austin 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 Durbin (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.

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 Warren (Mass.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (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 Mattis 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.

“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 Reed (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.

Tags Dick Durbin Elizabeth Warren Jack Reed James Mattis Lloyd Austin Tammy Duckworth Tom Cotton
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