WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday praised Lloyd J. Austin III, his election as Secretary of Defense, as “a leader of extraordinary courage, character, experience and achievement” and asked Congress to grant exemption to The Retired Four Army star generals need a law preventing recently active officers from serving in the top Pentagon post.
“He is loved by the men and women of the armed forces, feared by our adversaries, known and respected by our allies,” Biden said at an event in Wilmington, Del. “And he shares my heartfelt belief in the values of America’s alliances.”
Mr Biden said that placing the Pentagon under the command of a general overseeing American military operations in Iraq and the wider Middle East would deter and make the United States less likely to go to war.
“We need his firsthand knowledge of the immeasurable cost of war and the burden it puts on our service members and their families to end the eternal wars and ensure that the use of force is the last tool in our toolbox. Said Mr. Biden. “Not the first.”
General Austin towered over his six-foot-four-inch lectern and emphasized in his remarks that he would work closely with American diplomats and allied nations. “America is strongest when it works with its allies,” he said.
He said he and Mr. Biden met “under intense and high pressure situations” and committed to giving Mr. Biden “the same direct and unvarnished advice” that he had during the Obama administration when he was in charge had withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and then the military campaign against the Islamic State.
Mr Biden recalled a meeting at the American ambassador’s residence to Iraq that General Austin had attended when the building was hit by rockets by insurgents.
“Of course, General Austin, it was just another day in the office. He just sat there and kept walking, ”said Mr. Biden. “He’s cool under fire and inspires everyone around him.”
One of those people, Mr. Biden said, was his son, Beau Biden, who served as a military attorney on General Austin’s staff in Iraq.
General Austin called the younger Mr. Biden, who died in 2015, “a very special person, a true patriot, and good friend to everyone who knew him,” adding that the two men stayed in touch after Beau Biden returned home had returned.
If this were confirmed, General Austin would become the first black Secretary of Defense, a historic breakthrough he recognized in remarks referring to black service members from the Buffalo Soldiers of the Civil War to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II to the Montford Point Marines The first to be recalled Black men who were supposed to serve in the Marines were known from the North Carolina camp where they were trained. “Lots of people paved the way for me,” he said.
Mr Biden said General Austin was the right leader at a time when more than 40 percent of America’s active armed forces are colored people. “It’s been a long time since the department’s leadership reflected that diversity,” he said.
However, to be sustained, General Austin must obtain a congressional exemption from a 1947 law requiring military veterans to retire from active service for at least seven years before heading the Department of Defense. General Austin retired from the Army in April 2016.
Civilian control of the military was a national priority since the country was foundedand General Austin’s selection met with immediate opposition on Capitol Hill for breaking with tradition.
However, a vote by both chambers of congressional can waive the demand, as has already happened twice – most recently in early 2017 after President Trump appointed the recently retired Navy General Jim Mattis as his Secretary of Defense.
“There is a good reason for this law that I fully understand and respect. I would not ask for this exception if I did not believe that this moment in our history does not require it,” said Biden. “Just like with Jim Mattis, I ask Congress to grant a waiver. “
Mr. Biden’s team has already begun to stand before Legislators, where Democratic leaders have strongly supported the nomination and believe General Austin’s prospects are bright.
“Lloyd Austin has served our nation for more than four decades and his willingness to serve his country again is admirable,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and minority leader, on the chamber floor on Wednesday. “He will be an excellent secretary of defense.”
On Tuesday, spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi also declared her support for General Austin in a statement that didn’t address his recent retirement.
Some lawmakers have recognized that it was difficult to refuse a General Austin waiver after Congress approved one for Mr. Mattis.
“I am mainly against exemptions,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “But I don’t see how we can give Mattis and then turn around a few years later and refuse one of the most qualified African American leaders ever to serve our nation.”
But many Democrats still have concerns.
“As Democrats, we’ve just spent four years watching how such rules are broken,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey and former State Department official. “It really feels like doing without makes the exception the rule.”
He added that he had not yet decided how he would vote when the question was brought to the House.
House Armed Services Committee Democratic Chairman Representative Adam Smith said in a statement Tuesday that he was confident that General Austin would “make an excellent Secretary of Defense.” But he said he was “concerned” with his recent military service and that General Austin needed to meet with members of Congress to demonstrate his commitment to civilian control of the Pentagon.
General Austin tried Wednesday to address such concerns. “I come to this new role as a civilian leader – with military experience, of course – but also with a deep appreciation and awe of the prevailing wisdom of civilian control over our military,” he said.
General Austin’s intended nomination was confirmed on Wednesday by two senior national security officials serving in both the Republican and Democratic governments.
In a statement, Robert M. Gates, a former Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, described General Austin as “a person of unshakable integrity, independent of thought and conscience and a steadfast hand”. And Colin L. Powell, the first black chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and first black secretary of state, said in a statement on its Facebook page He had been a mentor to General Austin and asked Congress to approve a waiver that would allow the general to serve.
Mr Powell said General Austin “demonstrated his combat skills and bureaucratic, diplomatic and political acumen”.
Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos Contribution to reporting.