Senate Democrats Hint At Opposing Waiver For Biden’s Secretary Of Defense Nominee

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Andrew Trunsky Political Reporter
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Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and John Tester signaled that they will oppose granting retired Gen. Lloyd Austin the necessary waiver that would allow him to serve as Secretary of Defense.

Under federal law, 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. Austin retired in 2016.

“I have the deepest respect and admiration 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 non-political military,” Blumenthal, Connecticut’s senior senator, said Tuesday.

“I will not support the waiver,” he added.

Three years ago, Blumenthal was one of 17 Democratic senators who also voted against granting a waiver to retired Gen. James Mattis, whom President Donald Trump nominated for the same post. Despite the opposition, majorities in both parties ultimately voted to do so, and Mattis was confirmed.

Blumenthal’s comments were also echoed by Tester, Montana’s senior senator, who was one of the 17 senators who sided with him in 2017.

“I didn’t for Mattis and I don’t think I will for [Austin],” Tester said Tuesday.

“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 we ought to look at the rules,” he added.

Though 17 Democratic senators voted against granting a waiver in 2017, all Republican senators voted to do so, and Mattis was ultimately confirmed by the Senate 98-1. (RELATED: Senate Confirms Mattis As SecDef After Trump Signs Waiver)

It is unclear whether any Senate Republicans intend to vote against granting Austin the same waiver. One Democratic Senator, however, hinted that he would vote to give Austin the waiver after voting not to do so for Mattis three years ago.

“I inherently trust the Biden administration on issues of national security in a way that I did not inherently trust the Trump administration. Given that I’m a believer in his policy, I’m much more willing to give him deference,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said Tuesday, according to The Hill.

Earlier Tuesday, Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst, echoed Blumenthal and Tester’s concerns, saying that “choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off.”

“Austin has had an incredible career––but I’ll need to understand what he and the Biden Administration plan to do to address these concerns before I can vote for his waiver,” she added.

Biden is expected to formally nominate Austin to lead the Department of Defense Friday. If confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first black person to assume the role.

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