Joe Biden’s nomination for defense secretary, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, may face opposition from members of both parties in the Senate to his confirmation because he will need a waiver of the seven year rule in order to serve.
The long-standing rule says that members of the military must be retired seven years in order to serve as defense secretary, in order to preserve civilian control over the military.
Under pressure from the left, Joe Biden sought to appease growing calls for a black nominee to a cabinet position by nominating Austin, who appears to be well-respected as a potential Pentagon chief after being commander of U.S. Central Command under Barack Obama from 2013 to his retirement in 2016.
“Exemplary leadership,” “uniquely qualified”
Biden cited Austin’s “demonstrated exemplary leadership, character and command” as a reason for the choice, adding that he is “uniquely qualified to take on the challenges and crises we face in the current moment.”
“Gen. Austin shares my profound belief that our nation is at its strongest when we lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Biden said.
But while Austin fits all the intersectional boxes, he has only been retired for four years, thus necessitating the waiver that some on both sides of the political aisle say they are reluctant to give.
Can Austin get another waiver?
One of the reasons for the reluctance is that a waiver was granted four years ago for James Mattis to become defense secretary–a move that even Republicans say might have been a mistake and should be the exception and not the rule.
Mattis was only retired three years when he took the position, and he ended up leaving after less than two years in the position after his relationship with President Donald Trump soured.
Republicans like Tom Cotton (R-AK) said they have “reservations” about granting another waiver. “I can tell you that senators across the spectrum, from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans, are opposed to doing that again,” Cotton told Fox News, The Hill reported.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) also expressed concern, saying, “I would prefer it be a civilian person.” Smith said he wants to hear Austin’s testimony before making a decision on the nomination.
Prominent Democrats signal opposition
Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jon Tester (D-MT) both said they were opposed to granting the waiver; both had voted against the waiver for Mattis as well.
“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,” Blumenthal told reporters on Tuesday.
“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 added.
It seems likely that Biden will get Austin over the finish line because of his historic significance as the first Black Pentagon chief, but this nomination may be the first test of Biden’s clout and power to sway skeptical leaders to his will.