Senators Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) and Jon Tester (D., Mont.) told reporters on Tuesday that they would oppose a waiver for retired General Lloyd Austin to be confirmed as secretary of defense.
Austin retired in 2016, and the National Security Act of 1947 requires that former military personnel wait seven years before being appointed secretary in the president’s cabinet. Because Joe Biden nominated Austin for defense secretary in his incoming administration, Congress must grant Austin a waiver in order to confirm the appointment.
However, Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated on Tuesday that he would be against such a waiver.
“I have a lot of respect and admiration for General Austin…but I believe that a waiver for the 7 year rule would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control of non-political military,” Blumenthal told reporters. “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.”
Blumenthal voted against granting a waiver to former defense secretary James Mattis, President Trump’s nominee for the position in 2017. Tester, another Democrat who opposed a waiver for Mattis, said he would also vote against a waiver for Austin.
“I love Mattis, I thought Mattis was a great secretary. And I think this guy [Austin] is gonna be a great secretary of Defense. I just think that we ought to look at the rules,” Tester said.
Aside from Mattis, the waiver has only been granted on one other occasion. George Marshall was granted a waiver to serve as President Harry Truman’s secretary of defense in 1950.
Representative Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.), a former CIA analyst, also indicated her uneasiness with Austin’s appointment on Tuesday morning.
And after the last 4 years, civil-military relations at the Pentagon definitely need to be rebalanced. Gen. 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.
— Rep. Elissa Slotkin (@RepSlotkin) December 8, 2020
“Choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off,” Slotkin wrote on Twitter. “After the last 4 years, civil-military relations at the Pentagon definitely need to be rebalanced. Gen. 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.”