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Elizabeth Warren is third Democrat to oppose waiver for Biden defense secretary

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren is now the third Democrat in the Senate to oppose granting a waiver to President-elect Joe Biden’s defense secretary pick. retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

“I have great respect for Gen. Austin. His career has been exemplary, and I look forward to meeting him and talking to him more, but I opposed a waiver for Gen. [James] Mattis, and I will oppose a waiver for Gen. Austin,” Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

“I don’t think we ought to be doing these waivers,” she added.

By law, a defense secretary must be retired from active military service for at least seven years before taking over the civilian role at the Pentagon, unless the House and Senate grant a waiver.

Austin, who was tapped by the incoming commander-in-chief to lead the Defense Department this week, retired in 2016.

In taking her concerns public, Warren joins a growing chorus of Democrats in both chambers of Congress who have voiced their unwillingness to support a waiver for Austin, especially so soon after supporting one for retired Gen. James Mattis under President Trump.

At the time, Warren was one of 17 Democrats in the Senate to vote against a waiver for Trump’s first defense secretary.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Joe Tester (D-Mont.) also opposed a waiver for Mattis, and say they will oppose one for Austin.

“I have the deepest respect and admiration for Gen. Austin and this nomination, and this nomination is exciting and historic. But I believe that a waiver of the seven-year rule would contravene the basic principle that there should be civilian control over a nonpolitical military,” Blumenthal told reporters Tuesday.

When pressed whether the president-elect should nominate someone else to the post, Blumenthal demurred, only saying, “I will not support the waiver.”

Tester echoed those comments, saying, “I didn’t for Mattis, and I don’t think I will for [Austin].”

“I love Mattis. I thought Mattis was a great secretary. And I think this guy is gonna be a great secretary of defense. I just think that we ought to look at the rules,” the Montana senator added, referring to Austin.

Mattis’ waiver was approved by the Senate 81-17 and the House 268-151.

Some opposition is also brewing among Democrats in the House, something Biden cannot afford with his party’s slimmer majority in the body.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) argued in a tweet thread Tuesday morning that while she had “deep respect” for Austin, she felt as though “choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off.”

Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin
Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Slotkin, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration, argued that after the last four years, “civil-military relations at the Pentagon definitely need to be rebalanced.”

“Gen. Austin has had an incredible career — but I’ll need to understand what he and the Biden Administration plan to do to address these concerns before I can vote for his waiver,” she warned.

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