Top Democrat on Armed Services Committee concerned about Biden defense secretary nominee

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The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee expressed his concern Monday with President-elect Biden’s defense secretary pick needing a waiver.

Speaking with MSNBC, Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) made the revelation after being asked if he worried about Congress not supporting a waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

“Yes, I do,” the Washington Democrat said, pointing to GOP opposition first, “We’ve had several Republicans come out and say even though they supported the waiver for [retired Gen. Jim] Mattis, they won’t support the waiver for Lloyd Austin. I think that’s questionable.”

Smith then pivoted his attention to Democrats, who will hold a much slimmer majority in the lower chamber of Congress next year where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will not be able to afford any lawmakers going rogue.

“There have also been Democrats who have raised those concerns. The Biden administration and Gen. Austin, they’re going to have to work to get the waiver,” the top Armed Services Democrat told the network.

“Now, based on my conversations, I’m confident that I’ll get there and I’ll be able to support it,” Smith continued, “But to get the votes in the House, they’re really going to have to address the issue of civilian control of the military. They’re going to have to work it, it’s not guaranteed by any stretch.”

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.

A growing chorus of Democrats in both chambers of Congress have voiced their unwillingness to support a waiver for Austin, especially so soon after supporting one for retired Gen. James Mattis under President Trump.

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