Representative Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, urges members to pass legislation exempting Austin from a law requiring a military officer to be retired for at least seven years before serving as Secretary of Defense, said congressional assistants, who spoke. on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. The House and Senate must approve the waiver before the Senate can confirm Austin, who retired from the military in 2016.
In order to expedite Austin’s confirmation, some members of the House Armed Services Committee are even considering skipping a public hearing to hear Austin’s testimony on the matter and holding a closed-door briefing instead, a. said a Democratic House aide. A less formal framework could allow for a faster schedule, especially with regard to classified information. Democratic House leaders could also hold a direct floor vote on the waiver, rather than taking the first step by voting it out of committee first.
“The president-elect deserves to have his national security team in place as soon as possible,” said Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey, a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I look forward to welcoming Secretary-designate Austin to our committee next week and hope my colleagues will move quickly to approve a waiver and confirm it in the Senate.”
But speeding up the waiver will likely meet resistance from a number of committee members from both sides who have called for a public session to hear directly from Austin on the issue of civilian control of the military. Smith and most Democrats opposed a waiver for retired General Jim Mattis in 2016 after the candidate failed to show up to a House hearing before the vote.
Smith’s position that lawmakers should hear testimony from Austin before a waiver vote has not changed, according to an Armed Services aide who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Smith announced a Jan.21 hearing on Friday after speaking with Austin and reiterated his support for his confirmation.
“In order to pave the way for the historic appointment of Secretary-designate Austin, subject to the organization of the House Armed Services Committee, I intend to convene a public hearing before the Committee of the Whole on Thursday 21 January so members of our committee and the American people can hear directly from Secretary-designate Austin regarding civilian control of the military, ”Smith said in a statement Friday.
Some members are worried that Smith is not acting quickly enough to organize the committee, potentially preventing members from hearing Austin’s testimony in the time frame desired by the transition, the Democratic House aide said.
Procedural blockages can also prevent the committee from acting quickly. The armed services aide noted that the committee cannot hold hearings or vote until it has formally organized and passed rules, forcing Democratic and Republican leaders to nominate full rosters of lawmakers to the committee.
Congressional Democrats also reflected on Austin’s fast-track waiver late last year by slipping the legislation into a year-end government funding package, though that effort was rejected.
Across the Capitol, the Senate Armed Services Committee could delay its January 19 plan. hearing to consider Austin’s appointment, which would ensure the retired general will not be at work for the first day of the Biden administration.
Democrats will take over from the 50-50 Senate when Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are sworn in on January 20, which will put them in the driver’s seat to confirm cabinet nominees. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Will hand the gavel of the committee to the panel’s rank Democrat, Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
In a hearing Tuesday on civilian oversight of the military supposed to be a precursor to Austin’s confirmation hearing, Inhofe suggested that a hearing could be postponed until after Biden’s inauguration due to turnover. party.
“Sen. Reed and I, due to unusual circumstances, don’t yet know when we’re actually going to have a nomination hearing or how that vote is going to take place. We think it may have been the 19th or the 21st.
“So we can’t answer the obvious question of when … [waiver] the vote would take place and how soon after that there would be a nomination hearing, ”said Inhofe. “We are thinking about that right now, and Senator Reed and I will talk about the kind of work through the next steps.”
A spokesperson for Inhofe stressed that no decision had been made, but the outgoing and incoming presidents were discussing their options. A spokesperson for Reed, Chip Unruh, noted that the group had set a date for a confirmation hearing and referred to Inhofe, who still chairs the committee.
“There is a bipartisan commitment to move forward in a timely manner and the date is set for the 19th,” Unruh said. “If there are external reasons that have nothing to do with the candidate that justify a schedule change, that will be changed.”
“President Inhofe is making the last call here and he has always graciously spoken to rank member Reed,” Unruh added. “They work well together and will continue to perpetuate this spirit of bipartisanship and bring national defense and the interests of our troops to the fore.”