Former Vice President Joe Biden’s pick for defense secretary is running into opposition from members of his own party who will need to vote on whether to confirm him.
Biden announced Tuesday in an Atlantic piece he was planning, if he takes office, to nominate Army Gen. (Ret.) Lloyd Austin for the position, who if confirmed would be the first black defense secretary.
However, since by law a retired officer needs to have been out of the military for seven years before serving as defense secretary, Biden needs Congress to waive the law for him as they did with President Donald Trump’s former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
The law exists in order to uphold the principle of civilian versus military leadership of the Pentagon, and Democrats criticized Trump for appointing a general to the position. Seventeen Democrats voted against granting Mattis a waiver, and some of those Democrats now say they cannot support granting a waiver for Austin, according to The Hill.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told reporters on Tuesday she will oppose a waiver for Austin, according to the outlet.
“I have great respect for Gen. Austin. His career has been exemplary, and I look forward to meeting him and talking to him more, but I opposed a waiver for Gen. Mattis, and I will oppose a waiver for Gen. Austin,” she told reporters.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said he will also not be supporting a waiver.
“I have the deepest respect and administration for Gen. 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,” he said. “I will not support the waiver.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) expressed his opposition as well. “I didn’t for Mattis, and I don’t think I will for him.”
“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,” he said.
The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) said the burden of proof would be on Biden to show why Austin should be granted the waiver.
“I think the preference would be for someone who is not recently retired,” Reed said.
The House and the Senate would need to grant the waiver, and a separate vote would be held in the Senate to confirm Austin, so it is possible that enough Republican senators join Democrats to grant Austin a waiver, and allow him to then be confirmed.
Biden is expected to introduce Austin on Wednesday via a live-streamed event.