On Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden will formally present his pick for defense secretary, ex-Army General Lloyd Austin, amid concern from a few ‘woke members’ in Congress that a civilian rather than an officer should lead the Pentagon.
Austin, who would be the nation’s first Black secretary of defense, has built a reputation as a deeply private man who avoided the limelight during a celebrated four-decade career in uniform, including a stint as head of the military’s Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops across the Middle East including Iraq and Libya.
But his nomination could indicate a complicated confirmation process after at least two Democratic representatives expressed strong opposition to waiving a law that requires military brass to have been out of the armed forces for at least seven years before running the Pentagon. Austin, 67, retired in 2016.
Biden, a Democrat, asked the U.S. Senate to waive the law and “swiftly” endorse Austin in a note published on Tuesday by The Atlantic daily.
The former vice president praised Austin’s work, noted the historic nature of his appointment, and said Austin shared with him a promise to using force only as a last resort.
“The fact is, Austin’s many strengths and his intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense and our government are uniquely matched to the challenges and crises we face,” Biden wrote. “He is the person we need at this moment.”
President Trump’s first defense secretary, retired Marine General Jim Mattis, required a waiver as well.
JoeBiden will take office on Jan. 20 and is likely to spend much of his first few months focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the struggling economy.
On Tuesday, as he presented members of his public health team, Biden vowed to distribute 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days and to make reopening schools a “national priority.” He again implored Americans to not stop wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus.
Biden’s health and human services secretary nominee, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, will help oversee the government’s response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 283,000 in the United States.
According to news reports, Biden also plans to nominate Marcia Fudge, a Black congresswoman from Ohio, as his housing and urban development secretary, and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, as agriculture secretary. Vilsack held the same role during the Obama administration.
Trump still refuses to concede the Nov. 3 election, claiming without evidence that the results were “rigged” by widespread fraud. On Tuesday, the state of Texas filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the outcome in four other states, a lawsuit that legal experts said had little chance of success.