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New chairman of Senate military panel backs Austin as defense secretary

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III testifies before the Senate armed services committee on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing to be defense secretary, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Greg Nash/UPI/Pool
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III testifies before the Senate armed services committee on Tuesday during his confirmation hearing to be defense secretary, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Greg Nash/UPI/Pool | License Photo

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The top Democrat on the Senate armed services committee said Wednesday he supports a waiver for President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Pentagon, offering key support for a step required for confirmation.

Biden's nominee to head the Defense Department, Lloyd Austin III, has been a retired Army general for four years. Federal law requires that any defense secretary must be removed from active service for at least seven years, or require a waiver.

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Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the panel's ranking Democrat, said Wednesday he backs the waiver.

"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," Reed said in a statement.

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"His character and integrity are unquestioned and he possesses the knowledge and skill to effectively lead the Pentagon."

Reed will be become chair of the armed services committee when Democrats take control of the Senate.

"Lloyd Austin is a decorated leader who has led a distinguished career and is exceptionally qualified," Reed added. "He has demonstrated a clear commitment to civilian control of the military."

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Austin, who appeared before the committee at a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, would be the first Black defense secretary in U.S. history.

Congress last approved a wavier for former President Donald Trump's first defense secretary, James Mattis, in 2017.

Outgoing panel Chair Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has said he will support a waiver for Austin, but Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. have expressed concern about giving a waiver -- believing it's important that the defense secretary, a civilian post, has been out of the military for several years.

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