According to the U.S. political news website Politico, three people familiar with the matter pointed out that “president-elect” Biden may nominate Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star general at the age of 67, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and Austin may become the first African-American to lead the Pentagon.
In addition, according to the Capitol Hill, on December 7th local time, Biden announced the appointment of California Attorney General Xavier Becera as the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. He also became the first Latino head of the department in history.
These two personnel appointments are in line with Biden’s consistent commitment to creating a “plural” government, but the two ministerial candidates have caused widespread controversy at home and surprised many people.
Who are they? What kind of controversy did the two personnel decisions cause? What challenges will they face in appointment and inauguration? Foreign affairs” takes you to find out.
Who are they?
Austin: The first African-American general to command the U.S. Army.
Lloyd Austin was born in 1953 and graduated from West Point. Austin served as the commander of the United States Central Command, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, and the commander of Operation New Dawn in Iraq. Austin was not only the first African-American general to command the U.S. Army, but also the first African-American general to oversee operations throughout the theater.
After retiring in 2016, Austin joined Raytheon Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s largest arms contractors. He is also a board member of directors for Nucor and Healthcare Tenet, the nation’s largest steel producer.
According to Politico, Biden and Austin met during the Obama administration’s order to withdraw troops from Iraq. Biden, then Vice President, was responsible for leading the formulation of Iraq policy, and Austin was the last general to command the U.S. military in Iraq. According to people familiar with the matter, Biden may announce the appointment decision on the morning of December 8 local time.
The New York Times commented that Austin is good at military warfare but less politically sensitive. He failed at a 2015 congressional hearing and admitted that the DoD’s plan to allocate $500 million to recruit Syrian militants has not progressed.
On December 7th local time, Mississippi Democratic Congressman Benny Thompson, who is close to Biden, told Politico that “General Austin’s military qualifications are impeccable, and he will become an excellent Secretary of Defense.”
Becera: the first Latino California Attorney General
According to the Capitol Hill, on December 7th local time, Biden announced the appointment of his health team. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra was appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services; Rochelle Valensky became the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Anthony Fauci will continue to take the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Xavier Becera is 62 years old and graduated from Stanford University, according to The New York Times. He served in Congress for Los Angeles. While serving in Congress, he was the first Latino member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Becera was also a senior member of the Subcommittee on Health. In 2017, Becera became the Attorney General of California and the first Latino to hold the position. According to CNN, Becerra has been a opponent of Trump. During his tenure as Attorney General, he has filed more than 100 lawsuits against Trump and his policies, more than half of which are related to environmental policy.
Becera’s most notable achievement in healthcare, according to CNN, was leading a team of Democratic prosecutors to defend the Affordable Care Act in court.
What are the disputes between the two appointments?
The choice of defense minister is divided.
Previously, the most popular person in the position of Defense Secretary was Michelle Flunois, and many American media believed that she might become the first woman to lead the Pentagon. But two weeks ago, she did not appear in the debut of a key member of Biden’s national security team.
Politico noted that in recent weeks, Biden has faced increasing pressure to nominate an African-American to the post of Secretary of Defense.
However, as soon as Austin’s nomination came out, it was opposed by some national security experts. They believe that under the leadership of a retired general, it may be difficult to balance the civil and military forces in the Pentagon.
“It may be a bad idea from a civil-military relationship perspective,” Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, tweeted. Brooks also published an op-ed in The New York Times calling for a woman to be elected Secretary of Defense.
Last week, Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., and Mark Vessie, D-Texas, wrote directly to Biden expressing their support for Flunoir, praising Flunoir’s “relentless promotion of diverse and inclusive national security”. Adam Smith, chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, also said for the Flunoir platform, “I have communicated with the Biden team. [I think] Flunoir is the best candidate for the position of Secretary of Defense. Although this does not mean that she is the only person who is qualified for this work, there is no doubt that she is unique. .
Qualifications to perform duties are questioned
According to the New York Times, Becerra has made great achievements in criminal justice and immigration policy, and he has always been regarded as one of the strong candidates for the Attorney General. POLITICO analysis pointed out that unlike other candidates for the Minister of Health and Human Services, Becerra has not held important positions in health policy and has no experience in government agency management. This may lead the public to question whether he can lead the United States to effectively respond to the coronavirus epidemic and distribute vaccines fairly and reasonably.
Many medical experts were also surprised by Biden’s decision to appoint him. A person familiar with the matter said he was “very shocked” by Becera’s appointment. Medical experts have been urging the Biden team to appoint officials with medical professional backgrounds or public health knowledge to leadership positions in the health department, the New York Times reported.
Last week, five major medical teams, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Physicians, jointly sent a letter to Biden calling for the appointment of qualified medical experts to this position that is essential to promote the health development of medical care in the United States.
The letter also mentioned that Mr. Becerra is an experienced congressman who may help Biden promote legislative reform. But the medical community prefers an official with a medical background to hold this position.
According to POLITICO analysis, Biden appointed Becera either to ease tensions between Biden’s team and Latino groups. Latino lobby groups welcomed the news of Becerra’s appointment, “We are extremely excited and proud that the son of a Mexican immigrant is not only responsible for the response to the coronavirus epidemic, but also for broader medical services.” The delegation of the Congressional Hispanic Congressional Group (CHC) also encouraged Biden to appoint five Latinos to the cabinet to hold important positions.
In addition, supporters of the Affordable Care Act praised Biden’s choice, and the advocacy organization Protect Our Care said, “He (Becera) is qualified and capable of completing Biden’s health plan, improving the quality of care, lowering the price of prescription drugs, raising health insurance and taking measures. Control the COVID-19 epidemic”.
What challenges are they going to face?
The appointment of the Secretary of Defense is subject to congressional immunity.
According to CNN, under the U.S. National Security Act of 1947, the Secretary of Defense must not join any active U.S. military force for at least seven years. Austin retired from his active military position only four years ago. If Austin wants to succeed in office, he needs Congress to pass the relevant exemption bill.
According to the analysis of Defense Newsweek, Austin’s prospects for seeking congressional immunity are not optimistic. Only two nominated ministers were exempted in the last century. According to Politico, Trump also sought immunity for his first Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Although Mattis finally succeeded in obtaining immunity, many lawmakers voted against it.
Defense Newsweek believes that given the Trump administration’s overreliance on former military officers for civilian positions and the continuing public’s concerns about civil-military relations, Biden may struggle to secure enough votes for Austin.
Members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) said, “Exemption of a law should not happen more than once in a generation. I will therefore not support the granting of immunity for that nomination, nor will I support any future effort to weaken or repeal the Act.” Other congressmen have said that they will carefully consider whether to give a retired general another chance to lead the Pentagon.
Becera will face the challenge of the epidemic.
According to the New York Times, once Becerra took office, he would face the difficult task of leading the fight against the epidemic. The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 280,000 people in the United States, including infections and deaths of people of color.
The Associated Press pointed out that the United States is expected to start distributing vaccines in the next few months, and few cabinet positions will have such a huge impact on the anti-epidemic process in the United States as the Secretary of Health. Whether Becera can do this job well will directly affect the public’s evaluation of Biden’s presidency.
The Trump administration has taken a number of measures to weaken the Affordable Care Act, according to NPR. Becerra has always been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, and he may try to repair it through Congress after taking office.
On December 7th local time, Becerra tweeted that he had helped Congress pass the Affordable Care Act and had also defended the bill. Today, as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he will build on this and continue to ensure that every American has access to high-quality and affordable medical services.
However, considering that Democrats only have a narrow majority of seats in the House of Representatives, it is likely that Republicans will continue to maintain control of the Senate. NPR pointed out that Becerra’s efforts to make about the Affordable Care Act are actually very limited.