WASHINGTON — President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., on Wednesday praised Lloyd J. Austin III, his alternative for secretary of protection, as “a leader of extraordinary courage, character, experience and accomplishment,” and requested Congress to grant the exemption the retired four-star Army basic wants from a legislation that bars officers lately on lively obligation from serving within the prime Pentagon put up.
“He’s loved by the men and women of the armed forces, feared by our adversaries, known and respected by our allies,” Mr. Biden mentioned at an occasion in Wilmington, Del. “And he shares my deeply held belief in the values of America’s alliances.”
Mr. Biden mentioned that putting the Pentagon underneath the management of a basic who oversaw American navy operations in Iraq and the broader Middle East would maintain the United States from struggle, not make it extra seemingly.
“We need his firsthand knowledge of the immeasurable cost of war, and the burden it places on our service members and their families, to help bring to an end the forever wars and ensure that the use of force is the last tool in our toolbox,” Mr. Biden mentioned. “Not the first.”
Towering over his lectern, at 6 toes 4 inches tall, General Austin additionally burdened in his remarks that he would work carefully with American diplomats and allied nations. “America is strongest when it works with its allies,” he mentioned.
He mentioned he and Mr. Biden had “gotten to know each other under some intense and high-pressure situations” and pledged to give Mr. Biden “the same direct and unvarnished counsel” that he had in the course of the Obama administration, when he oversaw the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq after which the navy marketing campaign towards the Islamic State.
Mr. Biden recalled a gathering on the American ambassador’s residence in Iraq that General Austin had attended when the constructing got here underneath rocket assault by insurgents.
“Of course, General Austin, it was just another day at the office. He just sat there and kept right on going,” Mr. Biden mentioned. “He’s cool under fire, inspiring the same in all those around him.”
One of these individuals, Mr. Biden mentioned, was his son Beau Biden, who served as a navy lawyer on General Austin’s employees in Iraq.
General Austin known as the youthful Mr. Biden, who died in 2015, “a very special person, and a true patriot, and a good friend to all who knew him,” including that the 2 males stayed in contact after Beau Biden returned dwelling.
If confirmed, General Austin would grow to be the primary Black protection secretary, a historic breakthrough he acknowledged in remarks that recalled Black service members from the Buffalo Soldiers of the Civil War to the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II to the Montford Point Marines, as the primary Black males to serve within the Marines have been recognized after the camp in North Carolina the place they have been educated. “Many people have paved the way for me,” he mentioned.
Mr. Biden mentioned General Austin was the suitable chief at a time when greater than 40 p.c of America’s active-duty forces are individuals of coloration. “It’s long past time the department’s leadership reflects that diversity,” he mentioned.
To be confirmed, nevertheless, General Austin will want to win a congressional exemption from a 1947 legislation requiring that navy veterans be retired from lively obligation for at the very least seven years earlier than main the Defense Department. General Austin retired from the Army in April 2016.
Civilian management of the navy has been a nationwide precedence since the country’s founding, and General Austin’s choice drew some quick opposition on Capitol Hill for breaking with the custom.
But a vote by each chambers of Congress can waive the requirement, as has occurred twice earlier than — most lately in early 2017, after President Trump nominated the lately retired Marine basic Jim Mattis to be his secretary of protection.
“There’s a good reason for this law that I fully understand and respect. I would not be asking for this exception if I did not believe that this moment in our history didn’t call for it,” Mr. Biden mentioned. “Just as they did for Jim Mattis, I ask the Congress to grant a waiver.”
Mr. Biden’s workforce has already begun making its case to lawmakers, the place Democratic leaders have expressed robust help for the nomination, and imagine General Austin’s prospects are good.
“Lloyd Austin served our nation for more than four decades and his willingness to serve his country again is admirable,” the Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority chief, mentioned on the chamber flooring on Wednesday. “He will make an excellent secretary of defense.”
On Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, additionally declared her help for General Austin in a statement that didn’t deal with his current retirement.
Some lawmakers have acknowledged that it was laborious to justify opposing a waiver for Mr. Austin after Congress authorized one for Mr. Mattis.
“I am principally opposed to waivers,” mentioned Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “But I do not see how we can grant it for Mattis and then turn around a few years later and deny it for one of the most qualified African-American leaders to ever serve our nation.”
But many Democrats nonetheless have qualms.
“As Democrats, we just spent four years watching these kinds of rules be violated,” mentioned Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey and a former State Department official. “It really does feel as if a waiver would turn the exception into a rule.*
He added that he had not yet decided how he would vote when the question is put to the House.
The Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Adam Smith, said in a statement on Tuesday that he was confident Mr. Austin would “make an excellent secretary of defense.” But he mentioned that he was “concerned” about his current navy service and that Mr. Austin should meet with members of Congress to show his dedication to civilian management of the Pentagon.
General Austin sought to allay such issues on Wednesday. “I come to this new role as a civilian leader — with military experience, to be sure — but also with a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military,” he mentioned.
General Austin’s meant nomination received ringing endorsements on Wednesday from two main nationwide safety figures who served in each Republican and Democratic administrations.
In an announcement, Robert M. Gates, a former protection secretary underneath Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, known as General Austin “a person of unshakable integrity, independent of thought and conscience, and a steady hand.” And Colin L. Powell, the primary Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black secretary of state, said in a statement on his Facebook page that he had been a mentor to General Austin, and urged Congress to approve a waiver permitting the final to serve.
Mr. Powell mentioned General Austin “has demonstrated his warfighting skills and his bureaucratic, diplomatic and political acumen.”
Luke Broadwater, Emily Cochrane and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.