Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) announced Tuesday he will not support a waiver to allow President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, to serve in the position.
Cotton made the announcement during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to vet Austin for the position.
“Unfortunately I must announce that I oppose the waiver of the seven-year cooling-off period. My decision reflects not at all on you personally, or your record, which I respect. Rather, I believe Congress should no longer grant such waivers at all.”
Before Austin, a retired four-star Army general could be allowed to serve in the defense secretary position, Congress would need to pass a waiver to the law that requires a defense secretary to be out of uniform for at least seven years.
Austin retired from the military in 2016, just about four years ago. Congress waived that restriction for President Donald Trump’s first defense secretary, former Marine Gen. Jim Mattis.
@SenTomCotton: "Unfortunately I must announce that I oppose the waiver of the seven-year cooling-off period. My decision reflects not at all on you personally, or your record, which I respect. Rather, I believe Congress should no longer grant such waivers at all."
— Kristina Wong 🇺🇸 (@kristina_wong) January 19, 2021
Cotton acknowledged he voted to approve the waiver for Mattis, but said he had reservations even then and “quickly became [sic] to view that as a mistake and I have since regretted it.”
He added that he now even thinks the waiver for Gen. George C. Marshall in 1950 was “also a mistake.”
“Under no foreseeable circumstances can I imagine supporting such a waiver again,” Cotton said. He said his reasons are the same reasons the law is in place, to give generals a “cooling off” period.
The Arkansas senator said his reasons included the “perception that these waivers are now routine, not extraordinary.”
He cited Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed’s (D-RI) own words in 2017, when he said he would not support another waiver and they should happen only “once in a generation.”
“If we approve two waivers in just four years, our actions will speak louder than our words,” he said.
Cotton also opposed the idea that being a four-star general is no longer a career capstone. “Some generals and admirals may begin to think that if they play their cards right, they too can become a secretary in a few years. I don’t think that’s good for the force or for the country.”
He said he was also concerned about the perception among the American people that the military expertise of general offices is the same as national security expertise, and that it resides chiefly in the military.
Cotton opposed the potential perception of favoritism from Austin towards the Army while being defense secretary, which he called “unavoidable.”
Several Democrat senators have also previously expressed opposition to granting Austin the waiver, but they did not express that opposition during the confirmation hearing.