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Analyzing Biden’s possible pick for secretary of defense

President-elect Joe Biden made news this week when he announced key members of his national security team. But missing from that lineup is his choice for secretary of national defense. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff for a breakdown of the transition and a look at one leading candidate for the nomination.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we know, President-elect Biden made news earlier this week when he announced key members of his national security team.

    Missing from that lineup, his choice for secretary of defense.

    Nick Schifrin joins us now with the latest.

    So, hello, Nick.

    One of the names that had been mentioned for secretary of defense for the — for defense secretary was Michele Flournoy.

    So, remind us who she is and what the thinking was about her potential to be named.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Michele Flournoy, Judy, is still very much still the leading candidate to be secretary of defense. She would be the first female secretary of defense.

    And she receives widespread praises, especially for her mentoring of young women. She has got extensive Pentagon experience, most recently as number three in the Pentagon under the Obama administration.

    But there is criticism of her that we have heard in recent days over policy by people on both sides of the aisle, who believe that, since 9/11, the U.S. has become too interventionist, too reliant on the military. These critics want to see military withdrawals. They want to see the removal of support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

    And they are concerned about Flournoy's previous support for military intervention.

    So, take a listen to Winslow Wheeler. He's a longtime former Capitol Hill aide.

  • Winslow Wheeler:

    Well, she obviously has a lot of experience inside the Pentagon to know how the building operates. But she's been wrong almost every time.

    And it doesn't look like she's changed her views very much. We have had disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, based on this regime change agenda. And it's been a real disaster for our country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Flournoy's defenders say that her record as a hawk is actually more mixed than that and say that she has bipartisan support.

    Consider Kori Schake. She's a former NSC secretary, Defense Department, State Department official under George W. Bush. She says that Flournoy is not in complete alignment with Biden's other picks, and that's a good thing.

  • Kori Schake:

    If her view is slightly different than Avril Haines or Jake Sullivan or Tony Blinken, that will actually make the administration stronger.

    So, having diversity of perspectives shouldn't make us believe that that's bad for policy-making or that this talented, congenial team can't find a way to common ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, Nick, you were also telling us that there were questions being raised about Michele Flournoy's ties to the defense industry.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Flournoy started a think tank that relies on support for defense firms. She also started a strategic consulting firm with secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken, whose clients are not public.

    But, Judy, more than the clients, more than who may support her, her critics say that her approach to Pentagon management, Pentagon procurement, even Pentagon weapons testing, reflects the defense industry's agenda.

  • Winslow Wheeler:

    We need to exercise checks and balances to make sure that agenda doesn't send money down the drain and poorly equip our forces.

    And she's made clear that she wants to reduce those checks and balances, not make them stronger.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Her defenders say that that defense industry experience gives her key insight into running a department, Judy, whose budget is $740 billion a year.

    And they also say her connections, not only with the defense industry, but also with Silicon Valley, actually will help the U.S. maintain technological edge.

  • Kori Schake:

    The work that Michele has been doing in the last several years has been to try and connect American businesses, particularly innovative high-tech businesses, to the defense enterprise.

    And that's ever more important. So, if you want the American military to retain a technological edge over our competitors, you need to be out on the hustings trying to find a way to bring American businesses into defense work.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And one last thing to note, Judy.

    Biden is simply not as close to Flournoy as the other senior officials on national security that he's already announced.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A reminder of what a vigorous debate there can be behind the scenes over these critical appointments.

    We will continue to watch it. I know you will.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thanks very much.

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