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Biden Security Nominees Face Tests     01/19 06:03

   President-elect Joe Biden's national security Cabinet may be bare on Day One 
of his presidency, but an inauguration eve spurt of Senate confirmation 
hearings suggests that won't be the case for long.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Joe Biden's national security Cabinet may 
be bare on Day One of his presidency, but an inauguration eve spurt of Senate 
confirmation hearings suggests that won't be the case for long.

   While the nominees to head the State Department, the Pentagon, Homeland 
Security and the intelligence community are unlikely to be confirmed by the 
time Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday, some could be in place 
within days.

   The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of 
defense, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings about President Donald Trump 
four years ago led to Democratic-caused delays, except for James Mattis at the 
Pentagon. This year, the tension is heightened by Trump's impeachment and an 
extraordinary military presence in Washington because of fears of extremist 
violence.

   Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for 
Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump 
administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and 
intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his 
tenure.

   The most controversial of the group may be Lloyd Austin, the recently 
retired Army general whom Biden selected to lead the Pentagon. Austin will need 
not only a favorable confirmation vote in the Senate but also a waiver by both 
the House and the Senate because he has been out of uniform only four years.

   The last time a new president did not have his secretary of defense 
confirmed by Inauguration Day was in 1989. President George H.W. Bush's 
nominee, John Tower, had run into opposition and ended up rejected by the 
Senate several weeks later.

   Also up for confirmation are Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden's nominee for 
secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Biden confidant Antony 
Blinken to lead the State Department; Avril Haines to be the first woman to 
serve as director of national intelligence; and Janet Yellen as treasury 
secretary, another first for a woman.

   Austin is testifying Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but 
the panel will not be in position to vote until he gets the waiver. Republicans 
are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are Democrats.

   Biden's emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to 
governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong 
relationships in Washington and global capitals. Austin is something of an 
exception in that only twice in history has a recently retired general served 
as defense secretary --- most recently Mattis.

   Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defense, retired from the 
military as a four-star general in 2016. The law requires a minimum seven-year 
waiting period.

   Doubts about the wisdom of having a recently retired officer running the 
Pentagon are rooted in an American tradition of protecting against excessive 
military influence by ensuring that civilians are in control. When he announced 
Austin as his pick in December, Biden insisted he is "uniquely suited" for the 
job.

   Lindsay P. Cohn, an expert on civil-military relations and an associate 
professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said at a Senate hearing on the 
subject last week that an Austin waiver raises worrying risks.

   "Choosing a recently retired general officer and arguing that he is uniquely 
qualified for the current challenges furthers the narrative that military 
officers are better at things and more reliable or trustworthy than civil 
servants or other civilians," she said. "This is hugely problematic at a time 
when one of the biggest challenges facing the country is the need to restore 
trust and faith in the political system. Implying that only a military officer 
can do this job at this time is counterproductive to that goal."

   Some Democrats have already said they will oppose a waiver. They argue that 
granting it for two administrations in a row makes the exception more like a 
rule. Even so, a favorable vote seems likely.

   The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, 
D-Wash., on Friday introduced waiver legislation for Austin.

   Blinken, Biden's nominee to be America's top diplomat, said he is ready to 
confront challenges posed by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia and is 
committed to rebuilding the State Department after four years of atrophy under 
the Trump administration,

   Blinken will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he 
sees a world of rising nationalism and receding democracy. In remarks prepared 
for his confirmation hearing, Blinken will say that mounting threats from 
authoritarian states are reshaping all aspects of human lives, particularly in 
cyberspace. He'll say that American global leadership still matters and without 
it rivals will either step in to fill the vacuum or there will be chaos --- and 
neither is a palatable choice.

   Blinken also promises to bring Congress in as a full foreign policy partner, 
a subtle jab at the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 
who routinely ignored or bypassed lawmakers in policy-making. He called the 
Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill "senseless and searing" and pledged to work 
with Congress.

   Mayorkas, Biden's nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland 
Security, would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency. 
That's notable because DHS oversees border enforcement and the immigration 
services agency in addition to missions that include overseeing cybersecurity 
for critical infrastructure and civilian federal agencies.

   Haines, a former CIA deputy director and former deputy national security 
adviser in the Obama administration, was to have appeared Friday before the 
Senate intelligence committee, but the hearing for her confirmation to be 
director of national intelligence, or DNI, was postponed until Tuesday. She is 
expected to promise to keep politics out of the intelligence community, a 
departure from a Trump administration that saw repeated pressure on 
intelligence officials to shape intelligence to the Republican president's 
liking.

   "To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power 
--- even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult," Haines 
will say, according to excerpts of her prepared remarks.

   Yellen, the nominee for treasury secretary, is certain to be quizzed by the 
Senate Finance Committee about the details of Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion 
emergency relief plan announced last week.

   "Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now --- 
and long-term scarring of the economy later," Yellen says in prepared 
testimony. She adds that "right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the 
smartest thing we can do is act big," saying that in the long run "the benefits 
will far outweigh the costs."

 
 
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