Biden pick for Pentagon chief faces Democratic pushback over recent Army service
By Simon Lewis and Joseph Ax WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday will introduce his pick for defense secretary, a post that traditionally goes to a civilian, amid concern among some Democrats in Congress about retired Army General Lloyd Austin's recent military career. The nomination of Austin, who would be the country's first Black secretary of defense, requires both houses of Congress to waive a law requiring the military's top brass to have been out of the armed forces for at least seven years before running the Pentagon.
By Simon Lewis and Joseph Ax
WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday will introduce his pick for defense secretary, a post that traditionally goes to a civilian, amid concern among some Democrats in Congress about retired Army General Lloyd Austin's recent military career.
The nomination of Austin, who would be the country's first Black secretary of defense, requires both houses of Congress to waive a law requiring the military's top brass to have been out of the armed forces for at least seven years before running the Pentagon. Austin, 67, retired in 2016.
At least two Democratic U.S. senators - Richard Blumenthal and Jon Tester - say they would oppose a waiver, which was last issued for President Donald Trump's first defense secretary, retired Marine General Jim Mattis.
The Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said he had concerns about issuing another waiver, but he did not reject Austin's candidacy.
Austin should meet with members of the House committee "so they can ask questions about civilian control of the military, and ... be assured that General Austin is committed to this important principle and understands what he will have to do to make sure it is upheld during his tenure as Secretary of Defense,” Smith said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Austin has built a reputation as an intensely private man who avoided the spotlight during a distinguished four-decade career in uniform, including a stint as head of the military's Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops across the Middle East.
Biden is scheduled to present Austin at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, at 1.30 p.m. (1830 GMT). The Democrat has urged that Austin be "swiftly" confirmed, and said Austin shared with him a commitment to using force only as a last resort.
"The fact is, Austin's many strengths and his intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense and our government are uniquely matched to the challenges and crises we face," Biden wrote in an essay published by The Atlantic magazine. "He is the person we need in this moment."
Biden will nominate Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, as agriculture secretary, according to two sources familiar with the decision. Vilsack held the same role during the Obama administration.
He also plans to nominate Marcia Fudge, a Black congresswoman from Ohio, as his housing and urban development secretary, according to news reports.
IT'S THE PANDEMIC AND THE ECONOMY
Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, is likely to spend much of his first few months focused on the coronavirus pandemic and the struggling economy.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer met four members of Biden's economic team, including Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen and Office of Management and Budget director nominee Neera Tanden, on Wednesday and said he wanted to see commitment from them to more COVID-19 relief.
"We need a large, bold program to stimulate the economy, help people out of the conditions they’re in, but keep the economy going for a long period of time, and I am committed to working with you," Schumer said, according to a transcript.
The other nominees at the meeting were Wally Adeyemo for deputy Treasury secretary and Celia Rouse, who would chair the Council of Economic Advisers.
Biden vowed on Tuesday to distribute 100 million coronavirus vaccines in his first 100 days and to make reopening schools a "national priority." He again implored Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of the virus.
Biden's health and human services secretary nominee, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, will help oversee the government's response to the pandemic, which has killed more than 286,000 in the United States.
The state of Texas has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the election outcome in four other states, a lawsuit that legal experts said had little chance of success.
On Tuesday, the nation's highest court refused to block Pennsylvania from formalizing Biden's victory there, rejecting a request to hear an argument that the state's 2019 expansion of mail-in voting was illegal.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis in Wilmington, Delaware, and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Philip Stewart, Jarrett Renshaw and David Morgan in Washington; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
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