The choice sparked a new debate about civilian control of the military. Austin, who retired four years ago, will seek the same concession that Congress gave to President Donald Trump’s candidate, retired Marine Officer Jim Mattis, four years ago – leading some Democrats to say they have been reluctant to agree to such a waiver once and not. You want to do it again.
“I wouldn’t ask for that exclusion if I didn’t believe that this moment in our history didn’t call for it – it does – and if I don’t have confidence in Lloyd Austin I would ask,” Biden said.
His message on Wednesday was addressed directly to Congress, highlighting his move to grant Mattis a concession.
He said he saw Austin sitting at tables with foreign commanders, and sometimes wondered if he was a military or a diplomat. Biden said, “I’m not exaggerating – he has a way to deal with it.”
“I know this guy. I know he respects our constitution. I know his respect for our system of government. So as they did with Secretary Jim Mattis, I ask Congress to grant Lloyd Austin a waiver,” Biden said.
He also emphasized their longevity and personal confidence in Austin.
“I’ve personally worked with this guy. I’ve seen him lead American combat forces on the battlefield. I’ve also seen him faithfully fulfill the orders of the civilian leadership of this nation,” Biden said.
Austin said he would keep the importance of civilian control of the military “at the forefront of my opinion” and would run the Department of Defense “on the basis of meaningful civilian oversight.”
“I have come into this new role as a civilian leader – certainly with military experience – but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military,” he said.
Several Democrats in the Senate this week said they would oppose a ceding Austin. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said granting one of them “conflicts with the basic principle that there should be civilian control over an apolitical army.”
But Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated that he was open to granting Austin a waiver, saying that “in all fairness, you should give the candidate the opportunity to explain himself or herself.”
Biden’s transition team is already lobbying Congress: It has reached out to more than 100 offices in the House and Senate about the Austin nomination and exemption, a transition official said.
The official said Austin is expected to speak with Congressional leadership, including the House leadership and members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committee, “early” when the confirmation process begins.
CNN previously reported that Biden picked Austin from three finalists and offered him the position in a phone call over the weekend.
In an opinion piece published by The Atlantic on Tuesday, Biden directly addressed Austin’s need for a compromise. “The truth is that Austen’s many strengths and his intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense and our government uniquely match the challenges and crises we face. He is the person we need in this moment,” he wrote.
Biden wrote: “I respect and believe in the importance of civilian control of our military and the importance of a strong civil-military working relationship in the Department of Defense – as Austin does.” “We need empowered civilians who work with military leaders to shape Defense Department policies and make sure that our defense policies are accountable to the American people. Austin also knows that the Secretary of Defense has a different set of responsibilities than the general officer and that the dynamic civil-military army has been under great pressure during For the past four years, he will work tirelessly to get them back on the right track. “
Biden’s offer to Austin includes deep personal and family ties: Biden’s son, late Beau Biden, served on the Austin crew in Iraq and the two established a close relationship there, sitting side by side at Sunday mass and remaining friends after Beau Biden returned from work, said a source familiar with Biden’s decision .
“In more than 40 years in the United States Army, Austin has met every challenge with extraordinary skill and deep personal ethics. He is a true and experienced soldier and leader. I have spent countless hours with him, in the field and in the operations room of the White House,” Biden wrote . “I asked for his advice, saw him and admired his calmness and personality. It is a national definition.”
Ted Barrett, Nicole Jawitt, Manu Raju, Kate Sullivan, Jake Taber, and Jeff Zeleni of CNN contributed to this report.