Republicans Stand Down on Biden’s Pentagon Pick Lloyd Austin

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2015, photo, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Biden will nominate retired four-star Army general Lloyd J. Austin to be secretary of defense. That's according to three people familiar with the decision who spoke on condition …
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

A number of Senate Republicans on Thursday voted to approve a waiver to allow President Joe Biden’s pick for defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, to serve in the position.

The Senate voted 69-27 to pass the waiver to the law stipulating that a defense secretary must be more than seven years from serving in the military to hold that position, in order to preserve the principle of civilian control over the military. Austin retired from the military in 2016.

Of the 27 that opposed the waiver, only 13 were Republicans. They included Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Marsha Blackburn (TN); Susan Collins (ME); Tom Cotton (AR); Josh Hawley (MO); Mike Lee (UT); Cynthia Lummis (WY); Sen. Roger Marshall (KS); Marco Rubio (FL); Ben Sasse (NE); Rick Scott (FL); Pat Toomey (PA); and Todd Young (IN).

Surprisingly, more Democrats opposed the waiver. They included Sens. Tammy Baldwin (WI); Richard Blumenthal (CT); Cory Booker (NJ); Catherine Cortez Masto (NV); Tammy Duckworth (IL); Kirsten Gillibrand (NY); Edward Markey (MA); Jeff Merkley (OR); Patty Murray (WA); Jacky Rosen (NV); Jon Tester (MT); Chris Van Hollen (MD); Elizabeth Warren (MA); and Ron Wyden (OR).

Many who opposed the waiver have said they have done so on the principle of preserving civilian control of the military versus in opposition to Austin.

Still, the support from the majority of Republicans in the Senate was notable — signalling a lack of appetite so far to push back against Biden.

Republicans also did not push back on Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines.

Only 10 Senate Republicans opposed her. They were Sens. Blackburn; Mike Braun (IN); Ted Cruz (TX); Joni Ernst (IA); Bill Hagerty (TN);  Hawley; Lee; Marshall; Rand Paul (KY); and James Risch (ID).

There was more opposition from Republicans in the House to a waiver for Austin. Sixty-three Republicans voted against the waiver. Many of the Republicans who voted against it are members of the Republican Study Committee, the House Republicans’ conservative caucus.

The Republican Study Committee, led by Navy reservist and China hawk Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN). said in a statement last week:

General Lloyd Austin has not been out of uniform for the requisite seven years and thus requires a waiver from the U.S. House of Representatives to serve as secretary of defense. Based on the lessons learned after the House made the unprecedented move of granting a waiver four years ago, the Republican Study Committee will oppose granting General Austin a waiver.

The RSC laid out their reasoning in a lengthy memo distributed to members last week.

The caucus also opposes Austin’s nomination, citing lack of experience in great power competition against Russia and China and in civilian policy debates. They said in the memo:

General Lloyd Austin is not the man for the job General Austin has served his country admirably in combat and as a military officer. However, a cursory look at his record makes clear that the case for issuing a ‘waiver’ for Austin is not warranted. Lack of experience in great power competition and in civilian policy debates. Austin’s experience as the former head of CENTCOM was mostly focused in the Middle East and on the anti-ISIS fight while the main threats we face today come from great power competition from China and Russia.

Unlike General Mattis who regularly commented on defense and foreign policy issues as a Hoover Institution fellow after leaving the Pentagon in both speeches and public writings, General Austin has rarely if ever commented on the defense or foreign policy debates of the day, making it difficult to understand where he stands on important issues. Austin has mostly spent his post-Pentagon tenure running a consulting business, Austin Strategies LLC, and serving on a number of corporate boards including Nucor, a steel company that is a subcontractor to at least two major defense contractors and United Technologies Corporation, which includes a defense segment as well as business interests in the elevator and air conditioning industries.

The caucus also cited Austin’s tenure as commanding general of U.S. Forces in Iraq from 2010-2011, during the time of former President Barack Obama’s withdrawal, and as head of Central Command from 2013-2016, during the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“At CENTCOM, Austin was accused of intentionally downplaying intelligence regarding the rise of ISIS,” it said. The RSC also cited his performance on Syria.

“In Syria, General Austin was criticized for his reluctance to support military options earlier on in the Civil War, which if undertaken could have led to a better outcome,” it said.

Since both Houses of Congress have passed a waiver for Austin to serve, the Senate will next vote on Austin’s confirmation to serve as defense secretary. The Senate Press Gallery tweeted that the vote would be at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Friday.


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