Politics

‘Will Not Support The Waiver’ — These Democrats In Congress Will Likely Oppose A Waiver For Biden’s Defense Secretary Pick

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Henry Rodgers Senior Congressional Correspondent
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A number of Democrats have questioned President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, citing their concerns about selecting a recently retired general.

Democrats in both the House and Senate, including Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Jack Reed, have not said they would vote in favor of Austin, saying the position is not for recently retired generals and instead for civilians. Retired generals require a congressional waiver to be appointed. News broke Monday night that Biden had chosen Austin to be his defense secretary, sparking several reactions from Democrats to the decision.

Reed was asked Tuesday about a waiver for Austin, to which he said, “I think the burden of proof is on the administration and it also comes down ultimately to the quality of the nominee. General Austin is an outstanding officer… I think he should have an opportunity to talk about his vision for the Department of Defense and that I think is the decisive factor.”

“But it’s still I think, I think the preference would be for someone who is not recently retired,” Reed added.

Democratic Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a member of the House Committee on Armed Services, also questioned Biden’s choice, sending a number of tweets Tuesday saying although she likes Austin, she believes the position is designated for a civilian.

Gen. Lloyd Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, prepares to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the ongoing U.S. military operations to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill September 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“I have deep respect for Gen. Lloyd Austin. We worked together when he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, when he was vice chief of the Army, and when he was the CENTCOM commander,” Slotkin said. “But choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off.”

“The job of secretary of defense is purpose-built to ensure civilian oversight of the military. That is why it requires a waiver from the House and Senate to put a recently retired military officer in the job,” she continued. (RELATED: ‘Just Feels Off’: Democrat On Armed Services Committee Questions Biden’s Pick For Defense Secretary)

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also shared his concerns about Austin for the position, saying Tuesday, “I have the deepest respect and administration for General Austin and this nomination, and this nomination is exciting and historic. But I believe that a waiver of the seven-year rule would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military.”

“That principle is essential to our democracy. That’s the reason for the statute which I think has to be applied, unfortunately, in this instance,” he continued. “I will not support the waiver.”

Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester said he does not think he will vote to support a waiver for Austin, saying he did not vote in favor of the waiver for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (RELATED: Senate Democrats Hint At Opposing Waiver For Biden’s Secretary Of Defense Nominee)

“I didn’t for Mattis and I don’t think I will for him,” Tester said, referring to Austin, according to The Hill. “I love Mattis, I thought Mattis was a great secretary. And I think this guy is gonna be a great secretary of defense. I just think that we ought to look at the rules,” Tester continued.

A defense secretary must be retired from active service for at least seven years before assuming the position, which is a civilian role, unless granted a waiver by both the House and Senate, according to federal law. Austin retired in 2016 as a four-star general.