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President-elect Joe Biden’s beleaguered defense secretary pick Lloyd Austin is facing new scrutiny for his role on the board of steel company Nucor due to potential conflicts of interest with the firm’s clients.
The retired four-star general’s nomination is in turmoil primarily due to a Democratic revolt in favor of a law requiring a seven-year wait before military chiefs lead the Pentagon. Austin, 67, retired from the Army in 2016.
At least four Senate Democrats say they won’t grant Austin a waiver from the law that aims to preserve civilian control over the military. His business links also are emerging as a stumbling block.
Politico reports that Nucor supplies steel to companies that benefit from US military spending, including Oshkosh Defense, which is producing 50,000 Humvee replacements, and shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries, whose work includes submarines and aircraft carriers.
“This is just emblematic of how conflict-riddled this nomination is,” Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight told Politico.
Austin’s job on the board of arms dealer Raytheon, which sells missiles, drones and other equipment to the Pentagon, also prompted concern about conflicts of interest.
So far, Senate Democrats who oppose giving Austin a waiver — effectively sinking his nomination — include Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Jon Tester of Montana.
Republicans will hold at least 50 Senate seats in January, meaning some Republican support would be needed to confirm Austin, who is Biden’s highest-profile black Cabinet nominee.
Cabinet secretaries typically need approval only from the Senate, but waivers for defense secretaries who recently were military members require votes by both the House and Senate.
President Trump’s first defense secretary James Mattis won a waiver in 2017 with a 268-151 vote in the House and 81-17 vote in the Senate. At the time, Republicans backed Mattis and most Democrats did too, feeling he would bring continuity under Trump. A waiver was previously granted in 1950 to George Marshall.