WASHINGTON, DC – After the Senate Armed Services Committee completed both a hearing on civilian control of the military and a confirmation hearing to consider the nomination of retired General Lloyd J. Austin III to serve as Secretary of Defense, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement:

“Lloyd Austin is a decorated leader who has led a distinguished career and is exceptionally qualified.  He has demonstrated a clear commitment to civilian control of the military.  I will support his historic nomination and believe he will restore direction to a Pentagon that has been left rudderless and adrift for too long under the previous administration.  His character and integrity are unquestioned and he possesses the knowledge and skill to effectively lead the Pentagon.”

Under the law, military officers cannot serve as Secretary of Defense until seven years after they have retired from active duty unless they are granted a waiver by Congress.  Austin retired from the U.S. Army on May 1, 2016.

Four years ago, Congress granted a waiver for ret. General James Mattis, who had been retired from the Army for only four years.  The waiver for Mattis passed by a vote of 81 to 17 in the U.S. Senate and by a vote of 268 to 151 in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Mattis’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense was subsequently confirmed by a vote of 98 to 1.

Senator Reed supported both the waiver and confirmation.  He also called this waiver a once in a generation exception and strongly indicated that he would not grant a similar waiver in the future.

Today, Reed stated that historic circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic; Donald Trump’s irresponsible efforts to hollow out the Pentagon and politicize the military; a massive, ongoing Russian-directed cyber intrusion of the U.S. government and major companies; and the unprecedented storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump extremists seeking to overturn the outcome of the presidential election, led him to reconsider:

“I backed the waiver for General Mattis in large part because of Donald Trump’s inexperience and temperament and had no intention of supporting another waiver so soon.  That rationale seems almost quaint now considering the seismic forces we are currently facing,” Reed stated.

“After recent events, in depth hearings, and careful analysis, my questions have been answered and I believe Secretary Austin is the right person to lead the Pentagon through a unique, complex, and unprecedented set of challenges.

“We have troops deployed around the world who face life threatening dangers every day and need leadership and stability.  Our nation is also facing a worsening pandemic and civil unrest.  There is no question this confirmation has taken on increased urgency.  Joe Biden is working to restore faith and good order in government as he protects the nation and upholds democratic norms.  He must have a well-qualified, Senate-confirmed Secretary of Defense in place to help him meet complex and volatile national security challenges.

“The next Secretary of Defense must be a public servant, policy advisor, and effective manager who can support the mission to safeguard the nation, improve vaccine distribution, confront our adversaries, and lead the Department in facing the current and evolving threat environment.  The Secretary must improve the morale of uniformed personnel and civilian employees in the Department and ensure the Department’s missions are accomplished.  I have confidence that Lloyd Austin will ably do all those things.

“When Lloyd Austin and Kathleen Hicks are both confirmed to their respective positions at the U.S. Department of Defense, they will make history as the first Black man and the first woman to be confirmed for the top two roles.  Our military is strengthened by its diversity and the Pentagon should be too.

“Joe Biden clearly values and respects civilian control of the military.  As President, he will work hard to mend the fissures created over the past four years.  I commend Lloyd Austin for his exemplary leadership and look forward to working with him and President-elect Biden’s team to advance national security priorities and safeguard our nation,” concluded Reed.