If the Senate agrees, Austin will be the first black man to lead the Department of Defense.
This choice would make Austin one of the most prominent members of the Biden government and the incoming administration. The defense minister controls the largest government agency in the country, commanding forces around the world and the complex internal workings of the Pentagon that make it one of the most feared bureaucracies in the world.
It also means that policy blocks in Austin will be put to the test, avoiding calls to cut defense spending, as some in Congress want, while continuing to fund innovative future technology and prioritize challenges posed by Russia and China – all while maintaining military deterrence against Iran. And North Korea and ISIS.
Biden chose Austin despite the fact that he wasn’t the first choice among influential members of his party on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve definitely told Biden people that Michelle Flournoy is the best person for the job,” Smith told reporters in response to a question from CNN. “That doesn’t mean she is the only person who can do the job.”
“Michel … uniquely qualified,” he added, citing her experience as an Under Secretary for Policy and the work she has done since then. “It takes a certain amount of understanding of the bureaucracy and the Pentagon in order to make the changes permanent. And Michael has that. Not that there are no other people (who) can hold the position. But I think we have a clear case where she is the most qualified at this point.”
She worked closely with Biden
Austin has a long history of working within the Pentagon, and has worked with Biden closely in the past.
As vice president, Biden worked with Austin in a variety of positions, most notably while he was commander of US Central Command from 2013 to 2016, where they held discussions on a range of issues including the Middle East, Central and South Asia. Before that, but during Biden’s tenure as Vice President, Austin was the Army’s deputy chief of staff and commander-in-chief of US forces in Iraq.
“They have known each other for a long time,” the source said. “There is a comfort level.” The source said, “The historical nature of the choice is something Biden raises. Especially given the history of the US military as roadblockers in many areas.”
Biden’s transition team declined to comment on CNN.
Austin would need a congressional waiver to be confirmed for the civilian position because he retired from active duty only four years earlier. Federal law requires seven years of retirement from active service before taking on this role.
Although the exemption is rarely used, retired Marine General James Mattis received a waiver from Congress in 2017 to serve as Defense Secretary to President Donald Trump. Some Democrats in Congress at the time expressed concerns about setting aside the precedent for maintaining civilian leadership in the military, but the abdication was finally approved by both houses, allowing Mattis to serve in the position until his departure in December 2018.
“There has been interaction with people at Hill about a waiver,” the source told CNN, noting that the Biden-Harris transition team “hopes committee leaders and members responsible for moving forward support that,” especially given the historical situation. The nature of the nomination.
Austin knows the cost of the war firsthand.
The source says Austin “knows the Pentagon inside and out” and will be “an excellent person to manage the logistics of distributing the Covid-19 vaccine.”
The source added that he “also knows first-hand the cost of the war, after informing the families who lost loved ones.”
CNN reported that Austin was among three finalists for the role. Flournoy, a veteran Pentagon official who served as Defense Secretary for Policy in President Barack Obama’s administration, and J Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, were also to be studied.
Flournoy was considered the first candidate for the position, but her candidacy was questionable after progressive groups rallied in recent days to oppose her.
Specifically, critics raised concerns about Flournoy’s potential conflicts of interest, and questioned the extent to which her support for the surge of former President Barack Obama’s forces in Afghanistan and continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia coincided with the commercial interests of Boz Allen Hamilton, the Pentagon contractor who served on the board.
However, top Democrats on Capitol Hill expressed their support for Flournoy, and Smith told reporters on Monday that he had informed the Biden team of this opinion directly. A committee aide told CNN recently that Senator Jack Reed, the most senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also believed Flournoy was a great choice, raising questions about what kind of reception Austin would get from the committee once his confirmation process began.
While serving on the board of a defense contractor is a conflict and usually requires a cooling off period before anyone is nominated for the position of Secretary of Defense, others in the position have similar backgrounds.
Relationships with the defense contractor
Biden appointed Avril Haines, a former senior CIA official and deputy National Security Adviser, to lead the US intelligence community. Alejandro Mayuras, Former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Minister of Homeland Security; Anthony Blinken, his senior foreign policy aide, as Secretary of State; Linda Thomas Greenfield, Officer in the Foreign Service, US Ambassador to the United Nations.
He also chose Jake Sullivan, a former Obama administration official, to serve as a national security advisor, and former Secretary of State John Kerry as the climate tsar.
This story has been updated with additional reports and background.
CNN’s Arlit Sainz and Jeff Zeleni contributed to this report.