Lloyd J. Austin III, the retired four-star Army general who's been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as defense secretary, must obtain a congressional exemption from a law that bars recent active-duty officers from serving in the top Pentagon job. And a group of some well-known former defense secretaries are urging Congress to get on top of that because, they argue, it's a matter of urgent national security.
The House Armed Services Committee, however, isn't planning to hold a hearing until the day after Biden's inauguration this Wednesday.
The letter is signed by former Defense Secretaries Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta, and William Perry, as well as several deputies and service secretaries.
Scoop: 15 former Defense Secretaries, Deputies and service secretaries sign letter urging waiver for Lloyd Austin to serve as Biden Defense Secretary: includes Panetta, Hagel, Perry pic.twitter.com/5WtpU419DJ— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) January 18, 2021
"More pertinently, we understand what it takes to lead as a civilian at the department charged with the first and most essential task of the United States government, namely, to keep Americans safe," they write. "Rarely in our history has that been a more difficult challenge. Our nation faces a pandemic that has taken a terrible toll on America and on our allies; aggressive adversaries challenging us around the globe and in cyberspace; a rising China whose interests and values do not align with ours; and a threat from domestic terrorism that has rarely been more clear or more dangerous."
"Now more than ever, we need an experienced, competent, organized and respected Secretary of Defense," they write. "Every day that we do not have such a Secretary in place is a day that emboldens those who wish our nation harm. As former senior civilian leaders of the Department of Defense, we believe that Secretary-Designate Lloyd Austin can lead effectively as a civilian. We urge the Congress to grant him a waiver from the 1947 National Security Act as quickly as possible."
Lawmakers have begun to indicate how they plan to vote.
The internal security threat the U.S. faces right now is serious. We need a Secretary of Defense on the job immediately. I will vote to confirm Lloyd Austin and grant him a waiver, and I urge other Senators to do the same.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 18, 2021
Until Austin is confirmed, Biden has reportedly tapped Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist to step in as acting chief.
Almost two weeks ago, as Congress was trying to certify the electoral college results of the 2020 presidential election, a mob stormed into Capitol Hill. Five people died in the chaos.