By choosing Biden Pentagon, he tests Congress’s desire for norms against making history

WASHINGTON – The appointment of President-elect Joe Biden Lloyd Austin raises a tough question for Congress: to ratify the first black defense secretary, or to ratify a 73-year-old law designed to prevent recently retired military officers from leading the Pentagon.

The 67-star Austin, a four-star general, led U.S. Central Command before retiring in 2016. He needs an exemption from a 1947 law that sought to strengthen civilian control of the military by requiring officers to have a seven-year accrual period. exemption from active duty.

Legislators are divided on whether to give.

“I understand the importance of civilian oversight. I have some concerns about asking for an exemption, ”said Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who serves on the Armed Services Commission overseeing the nomination. – So I take these into account.

Unlike the procedure for approving candidates, which is carried out only by the Senate, this type of exemption must be approved by both chambers. Since the introduction of the requirement after World War II, only two Pentagon candidates have been granted an exemption: Harry Truman elected George Marshall in 1950, and President Donald Trump elected James Mattis in 2017.

Under the Trump regime, it is a matter of concern that political decisions made by civilians historically have been left to military brass. And that encourages some to take over another citizen when Biden becomes president

Jim Golby, a senior fellow at the University of Texas at the Clement Center for Homeland Security in Austin, says he should not be granted an exemption. According to him, the Mattis immunity was based on his military leader stabilizing decision-making under an inexperienced president, while Biden’s goal is to return to normal.

“If Congress allows this exemption, it will be very difficult to restore this law to be important in practice,” he said. “The more we blur the boundaries between civilian and military, the more we weaken our military forces, making them more political and less effective. In the end, we will be liberal generals and conservative generals, not American generals.”

The issue is not interrupted by parties. Some Republicans, including Senate Armed Services President James Inhofe, R-Okla. According to them, they support the suspension of the seven-year rule.

“I always support the resignation,” he told reporters on Tuesday without considering Austin. “Because I don’t think we should spend seven years inside anyway.”

John Thune, Senate Major Whip, John D. Thune, RS.D. according to Congress will evaluate the exemption from the law.

“This is the exception, not the rule,” Thune told reporters on Tuesday. – We did this for Mattis. So I think there’s a reason we exercise civilian oversight over the Department of Defense. But again, I don’t rule it out, and I don’t even rule it out, it’s just something we need to consider when the time comes. “

Biden said on Wednesday that the civilian-military relationship has been “under great stress” in recent years and that Austin could improve on it.

“There is no doubt in my head – there is no doubt that this candidate respects, respects and breathes life on a day-to-day basis into the paramount principle of civilian leadership in the military affairs of our nation,” he said. .

Biden asked Congress for an exemption for Austin, as it gave Mattis in 2017. In 2017, the Senate approved it with 81-17 votes and the House with 268-151 votes before Trump took office, paving the way for Mattis to be confirmed. on the inauguration day. Much of the opposition was provided by Democrats.

Some of them say Austin should get the same treatment.

“He looks incredibly skilled,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, a member of the Senate Democrat leadership team, told NBC News. “But I’d assume the Senate wouldn’t treat him differently than General Mattis.” It certainly doesn’t make sense.

New York MP Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the Democratic House leadership team, praised Austin as a “pioneering, groundbreaking four-star general” who spent his life defending American liberties.

Jeffries told reporters on Tuesday that he was waiting for the incident, which Biden’s team went up, but noted that Austin had “not been involved with the military for several years.”

“I expect that we will strongly support your nomination and make sure you all get the consideration you deserve,” he said, “and we will properly address the issue of resignation as you progress. “

Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., A retired lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard who voted against the Mattis exemption, told MSNBC he was “in principle” opposed to Austin again.

But he added, expecting approval and support for the nomination, calling Austin an “excellent officer” who is proven and capable and “will be an excellent defense secretary.”

During Mattis ’tenure, defense officials complained that he relied more on his general officers, often cutting civilians out of the loop.

During the Trump administration, many civilian political officials left the Pentagon and were often not replaced. In some cases, the vacancies were filled by military officers, prompting defense officials to make a mocking reference to the changes as the “Pentagon’s” savage generals. “

Some defense officials are concerned that Austin, like Mattis, relies more on its uniformed leaders than on its civilian political team.

Senator James Lankford, R-Okla, said he was “not opposed” to resigning from the Pentagon candidate, noting his support for Mattis.

He said he would evaluate the next candidate as a “person or leader”.