Austin, 67, who retired in 2016 as the chief of US central command, would have to be confirmed by the Senate. He would also need a waiver from a law that mandates any service member must be out of uniform for at least seven years before being eligible to serve as defence secretary, a condition that is meant to ensure civilian primacy over the military.
Biden’s choice of Austin, which he is expected to be announced on Friday but was leaked to the media on Monday, follows ongoing struggle among various groups for key positions in the cabinet. The African-American lobby pressed for this breakthrough achievement even as Biden picked Hispanic-Americans for two key positions – Xavier Becerra for health and human services secretary and Alejandro Mayorkas to head the department of homeland security.
The President-elect has also chosen veteran US diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be US ambassador to the United Nations and Princeton labor economist Cecilia Rouse as chair of the council of economic advisers. Both positions will be elevated to cabinet rank. He has also picked Indian-American Neera Tanden to head the office of management and budget and Vivek Murthy to be the surgeon general, again both to be designated cabinet level officials.
The choice of a range of officials from minority groups is in keeping with the Biden-Harris pledge that President’s cabinet should reflect the growing diversity of the United States – a country long run by its white male elites – including a fair representation of its women who vote in greater numbers than men. Austin’s pick as defense secretary though nipped out Michele Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official under President Barack Obama who was strongly tipped for the job and would have been the first woman to lead the Pentagon.
Biden’s cabinet picks – which he says came in consultation with his Vice-President elect Kamala Harris – is being rolled out even as defeated President Donald Trump refuses to accept the election results while continuing legal challenges that are being trashed by courts. Republican officials at the state level have also rejected his efforts to subvert the results, openly snubbing the President.
Over the past week, Trump in phone calls to state officials, has attempted to pressure then to reject the results that gave Biden a clear if narrow win. At least one official, Arizona governor Doug Ducey, has hung up on the President. A frustrated Trump has now taken to attacking them on Twitter, ominously warning “People are angry.”
“Georgia Lt governor @GeoffDuncanGA is a RINO Never Trumper who got himself elected as LG by falsely claiming to be “pro-Trump”. Too dumb or corrupt to recognize massive evidence of fraud in GA & should be replaced! We need every great Georgian to call him out!” the defeated President tweeted on Monday. RINO stands for Republicans in Name Only.
Some Republican officials have said Trump is putting them in harm’s way with his implicit call to his base to revolt.
Amid repeated smackdowns from the judiciary, the defeated President is reported to be planning a final act of petulance to upstage his successor. According to Axios, he is considering exiting the White House via Marine One and flying on Air Force One to a rally in Florida where he will announce he is running for President again in 2024 – at the exact time Biden is being sworn in on January 20, 2021. Outgoing US Presidents typically attend the inauguration of the new President in a graceful transfer of power that has characterized the country’s politics for 244 years.
Trump is not ready to give in or give up. On Tuesday, Republican-led Texas, where there have been movements in the past to secede from the US, filed a lawsuit with the US Supreme Court challenging election procedures in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, saying it violates the Constitution.