In 2017, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis received a bicameral congressional waiver to serve as President Trump's secretary of defense, allowing him to bypass a law requiring military officers to wait seven years after retirement before assuming the role. Mattis became just the second person in 70 years to receive the waiver, but both parties appear uneasy about giving retired Gen. Lloyd Austin — President-elect Joe Biden's reported choice to lead the Pentagon who retired in 2016 — the same path to confirmation.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said she has "deep respect" for Austin, having worked with him when he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, but "choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off." Slotkin left the door open for voting in favor of the waiver, but said she'll need to hear the Biden administration's reasoning before making a decision.
Eliot Cohen, a Republican political scientist and the dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, made the case in The Atlantic that Biden should choose a civilian, and Jim Golby — who has served as an adviser to Biden, Vice President Mike Pence, and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — argued along similar lines in The New York Times. In their view, Mattis' waiver was warranted (Cohen even testified in favor of granting the waiver before Congress) given Trump's national security inexperience. But they don't think presidents should make a habit of appointing generals to the post. "Civilian control of the military is a vital precept," Cohen writes. Read more at The Atlantic and The New York Times.