President-elect Joe Biden announced retired U.S. Army General Lloyd Austin as his selection for secretary of defense, a choice that has sparked a variety of reactions. Nick Schifin reports.
Now returning to president-elect Biden's choice to run the Defense Department, retired Army General Lloyd Austin.
Several candidates were much talked about for the post, and Biden's pick has sparked a variety of reactions.
Here now, Nick Schifrin.
For 40 years, Lloyd Austin was a barrier-breaking soldier, the first Black officer to command a division in combat and command a theater of war.
He had some of the most difficult commands, including Iraq before the 2011 U.S. withdrawal.
It is going to take the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people to continue to make the right decisions, to work together.
President-elect Biden worked with Austin in Iraq and attended the ceremony where Austin received command. And the vice president's late son Beau Biden, who died in 2015, served on Austin's staff.
In an article today, Biden calls Austin calm under pressure and praised Austin's logistical success in withdrawing from Iraq. Biden says Austin will use those skills to quarterback COVID vaccine logistics.
Biden wrote they align strategically and Austin's nomination was a — quote — "milestone."
This really is historic. African-Americans have served in higher numbers than their percentage of the population in the United States. So, it's about time.
Dana Pittard is a retired two-star general who served with Austin in Iraq when they fought ISIS. He's the author of the book "Hunting the Caliphate."
He had our forces, with all of our coalition allies, fight ISIS on numerous fronts. It took strategic vision and an operational approach to be able to pull that off. And that was General Austin.
Austin also served in the Pentagon as the former Army vice chief of staff.
He ran the day-in-and-day-out staff business in the Pentagon. So, he has intimate knowledge of things, at least on how the Pentagon should work, as a senior leader.
But Austin's nomination has critics. He retired only four years ago, and would therefore need a congressional waiver to serve as the civilian secretary of defense. Congress has only approved that waiver twice, for former World War II Five-Star General George Marshall and for President Trump's first defense secretary, James Mattis, Austin's predecessor at Central Command.
In 2017, top Senate Armed Services Democrat Jack Reed supported Mattis' waiver, but warned it was the last.
Senator Jack Reed, D-R.I.:
Waiving laws should happen no more than once in a generation. Therefore, I will not support a waiver for future nominees.
Today, Reed kept his options open during a windy interview.
Sen. Jack Reed:
In all fairness, you have to give the opportunity to the nominee to explain himself or herself. That's what I think the principle is.
The Congress has, since the 1940s, required that, for someone to become secretary of defense, that they have been separated from that chain of command for a long enough time, back into the private sector, that they still — that they aren't still part of that sense of following orders.
Danielle Brian is the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, which opposed Austin and other prospective nominees. She's also concerned Austin joined the board of Raytheon, one of the country's largest defense contractors, a few months after he retired.
We want someone who has a broader perspective than sort of the same old cycle of the military industrial complex that has been spiraling now for decades.
And some regret the opportunity lost to have picked the first female defense secretary, Michele Flournoy, who was on Biden's short list.
Well, I do feel there's a sense of being let down from some folks, that they were really hoping that we'd be able to break this barrier.
Mieke Eoyang is the senior vice president of centrist think tank Third Way.
Having Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense is a big, historic moment. He has broken barriers everywhere he's gone. Race is very much still an issue in the military.
But, at the same time, so is gender. Both of those issues, racism and gender discrimination, are going to be on the plate for the next secretary of defense.
Austin's defenders say he is a warrior-diplomat who can deal with those issues and align with president-elect Biden's restraint.
Someone who is more tied to the Defense Department and who has been in combat themselves will be a little bit more reluctant to want to send our sons and daughters to combat, unless it's absolutely necessary.
And Lloyd Austin is that type of individual and leader.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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