Democrats in the House were less than happy when then-President Trump appointed famed Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to be his secretary of defense when he first got into office. Due to federal law, Mattis required a waiver from Congress to serve as defense secretary since he was not out of the military long enough to serve in the top civilian role.
In 2017, an overwhelming number of House Democrats, 150, voted against Mattis being given the waiver, including then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), who was the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee.
Fast forward to 2021 and the House, now in Democratic control, was presented with the same problem for President Joe Biden's pick for defense secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin. Austin also required the waiver, but Democrats were much more willing to grant him it.
Smith said in a series of tweets this month that he urged "all my Democratic colleagues" to vote for the waiver.
Today I sent a letter to all my Democratic colleagues in the House, urging them to vote in favor of granting Secretary of Defense designate @LloydAustin the waiver necessary to complete his historic confirmation. (1/x)— Rep. Adam Smith (@RepAdamSmith) January 18, 2021
In short, I have no doubt that civilian control of the military will be completely upheld by Secretary-designate Austin when he is our Secretary of Defense. (3/x)— Rep. Adam Smith (@RepAdamSmith) January 18, 2021
The House voted 326-78 to pass Austin's waiver, with many more Republicans giving support than Democrats when the roles were reversed in 2017.
In a statement, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he supported the waiver for Austin but slammed Democrats for their hypocrisy on the waiver issue.
"Some have said 'civilian leadership of the military has been a cornerstone of our democracy since the Founders, and for good reason…The American people are entitled to regular order and thoughtful scrutiny of nominees and any potential waivers.' These were Speaker Pelosi’s words just four years ago when it was a Republican president’s nominee for Secretary of Defense who needed a waiver," McCarthy said.
"Now that the nominee has been named by someone in their own party, House Democrats have no issue skipping regular order, rushing through a waiver, and depriving the American people of the thorough process the Speaker herself once said they deserved. House Democrats also overwhelmingly opposed the waiver for President Trump’s Secretary of Defense nominee. And yet today they argued that a waiver is now okay given we have a Democrat in the White House. We should call it for what it is: a blatant, partisan flip flop," he added.
Austin was officially confirmed by the Senate on Friday to be Biden's defense secretary.