Biden’s Pentagon Pick Austin Scheduled for Confirmation Hearing

President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to run the Pentagon will have a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 19, a day before the inauguration.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, who is expected to lead the committee once Democrats control the chamber on Jan. 20, announced the hearing for retired Army General Lloyd Austin Thursday.

It’s not unusual for the Senate, which was sworn in last week, to hold a hearing on a nominee ahead of an inauguration, particularly for key national security roles. The committee wouldn’t act on the nomination until after Kamala Harris is sworn in as vice president with the power to break tie votes in the Senate.

Austin also would need Congress to pass a waiver of a law meant to ensure civilian control of the military by preventing retired military officers from being defense chiefs until they’ve been out of uniform for seven years. Austin, the first Black officer to head Central Command, resigned from the Army in 2016.

Only two other retired officers have received a waiver to be defense secretary since World War II. The Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on civilian control of the military on Jan. 12, a week before the confirmation hearing.

Democrats decided not to include a provision to expedite Austin’s waiver in the year-end government spending package passed last month. At the time, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he would probably support a waiver but that it deserved a separate vote because of the importance of civilian control of the military.

Although some Democrats have expressed concerns about granting a waiver -- Senator Tammy Duckworth said last month that she can’t support one -- the party is likely want to show unity behind Biden’s cabinet picks.

Senator Reed, who in 2017 pledged that he wouldn’t support another waiver after backing one for Jim Mattis, the retired general who was President Donald Trump’s first defense chief, may be softening his position. He said last month that the quality of the pick and the nominee’s vision should be the “decisive factor” even though his “preference would be for someone who’s not recently retired.”

Biden noted the need for the waiver and acknowledge concern about it when introducing Austin as his pick on Dec. 9.

“There’s a good reason for that law that I understand and respect,” Biden said. “I believe in the importance of civilian control of the military.”

If confirmed, Austin, who has served on the board of Raytheon Technologies Corp. since 2016, may have to recuse himself from many decisions on the F-35 fighter -- the Pentagon’s single biggest weapons contract -- because the company’s Pratt & Whitney unit makes the jet’s engine.

He may also face recusal questions on the company’s missile defense and naval combat systems programs. Other questions will be raised about his role in a private equity group.

Austin, 67, is a native of Thomasville, Georgia, and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He holds a master’s degree in education from Auburn University and a master’s degree in business management from Webster University.

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