United States President-elect Joe Biden has nominated retired army general, Lloyd Austin to be the Defense Secretary under his new administration in the White House. General Austin would be the first black man to serve in the position.
Biden, who will be sworn into office on January 20, was previously considering another candidate, Michele Flournoy, who was considered the front-runner before a backlash from Progressive Democrats after she received an endorsement from House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith.
“I certainly communicated to the Biden people that I think Michele Flournoy is hands down the best qualified person for the job,” Smith told reporters, responding to a question from CNN. “That does not mean that she’s the only person that could do the job.”
However, a Politico report, citing two sources familiar with the decision, revealed that Biden reached out to General Austin to offer him the Defense Secretary role, which Austin accepted.
“They’ve known each other for a long time,” the source said. “There’s a comfort level.”
Biden previously worked with Austin in various settings – primarily when he was commander of CENTCOM from 2013 to 2016 during Biden’s tenure as Vice President to Barack Obama. Prior to that, Austin was vice chief of staff of the Army and commanding general of US forces in Iraq, also during Biden’s time as Vice President.
However, before Austin appears in confirmation hearings before the Senate, he will have to obtain a congressional waiver to serve in the civilian role, having only recently retired from active duty in the military.
“There has been engagement with people on the Hill about a waiver,” the source said, saying the Biden-Harris transition team is “hopeful leaders of the committees and members responsible for bringing that forward will support that,” particularly given the historic nature of the nomination.
Federal law requires that nominees for the role need to have been retired for seven years, and Austin has only been retired for four. However, there is recent precedent of congressional waivers being granted, with Donald Trump’s appointment of his former Defense Secretary, Gen. James Mattis, in 2018.