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Biden picks Norquist to be acting Defense secretary

Tony Capaccio, Roxana Tiron and Peter Martin, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is asking Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist to step in as acting secretary of defense, according to two transition officials.

The request comes as Biden faces a struggle to secure congressional approval of his pick for Pentagon chief, retired Army General Lloyd Austin. In addition to Senate confirmation, Austin would need a waiver from both chambers of Congress to take the role because it’s been less than seven years since he retired from the military.

Austin’s path became more difficult on Thursday when a group representing a majority of House Republicans opposed granting the waiver from the law intended to ensure civilian control of the military. Some Democrats in Congress also have voiced opposition even as they praise Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defense.

The choice of Norquist comes after Biden and his national security team expressed frustration at a lack of cooperation from the current Pentagon leadership under Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. In December, the Biden team protested an “abrupt halt” in meetings to prepare for the new administration. Meetings have since resumed.

Norquist, whose selection as acting secretary was reported earlier Thursday by Politico, is a veteran government official whose service mostly involved budgetary management, including as Defense Department comptroller and as a congressional aide specializing in the defense budget.

In addition to confirmation by the Senate, both congressional chambers would have to approve the waiver for Austin, who resigned from the Army in 2016. A waiver was approved in 2017 for retired General James Mattis, Trump’s first defense secretary.

The position announced Thursday by the Republican Study Committee position isn’t binding, but if Republicans reject the waiver in substantial numbers Democrats will have to rely heavily on their House majority. Some Democrats have said they also oppose granting another waiver.

 

In the Senate, a number of Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that they won’t vote for the waiver even though they would support confirmation.

“Based on the lessons learned after the House made the unprecedented move of granting a waiver four years ago, the Republican Study Committee will oppose granting General Austin a waiver,” the group, led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, said in a statement Thursday, accompanied by a memo that also questioned Austin’s performance heading U.S. Central Command and his lack of experience in great power competition.

In 2017, only one Republican joined 150 Democrats in voting against the waiver for Mattis.

Banks, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a separate memo that Mattis insulated himself in “a coterie of military advisers, often pushing away civilian leadership, and in many cases was out of tune with the policy vision of the elected Commander in Chief, creating tensions.”

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(Jennifer Jacobs contributed to this report.)

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