Floor Speech on H.R. 335, Providing Waiver for Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to Serve as Defense Secretary

January 21, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 335, a waiver enabling retired General Lloyd Austin to serve as Secretary of Defense.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  I thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his extraordinary leadership as Chair of the Armed Services Committee. 

He brings us to the Floor today for a very special privilege.  We in the House, really most of the time, do not have too much say as to who will be a Member of the Cabinet.  That advise and consent responsibility lies with the Senate.  But today, because of the special nature of the appointee, we are here to talk about a waiver.

As a Member of Congress, again, no more serious responsibility.  It's the oath we take to protect and defend.  The responsibility, our responsibility is to protect the American people.  That responsibility is why we must waste no time in ensuring that President Joe Biden's national defense and national security team is confirmed, ready and able to keep our country and our people safe. 

President Biden selected a highly qualified and widely respected leader in nominating General Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense.  General Austin has led with honor and served with dignity.  With over 40 years of decorated army service, Secretary-designate Austin brings a great understanding of the challenges facing our nation's defense, and a deep appreciation for the sacrifice of our military and their families. 

The historic circumstances of this nomination in light of the deadly insurrection, assault on the Capitol, the coronavirus pandemic, the undermining of the Pentagon by the previous president and more necessitate the expeditious confirmation of this extremely qualified leader.  I do want to say, as a constitutional officer, the Speaker of the House is a constitutional officer, written into the constitution, and as a former leader of the Intelligence Committee, Democratic leader of the Intelligence Committee, my commitment to a strong civilian control of our military as required by the Constitution is firm.

This is not an issue with us, Mr. Speaker.  It is a value, a value: civilian control of the military.  And the Congress's power to grant or withhold an exemption for recent active duty military servicemembers to become Secretary of Defense is one of the most – must be treated with gravity and extreme diligence. 

That is why I'm so glad that President Biden and General Austin insisted and met our request to come speak to the Armed Services Committee members.  That did not happen under General Mattis.  I'm a big fan of General Mattis, but President Trump said he could not come speak to the Congress.  And that's a big difference.  That's a big difference. 

So, again, with gratitude to President Biden in recognizing the important role that the House of Representatives plays in this, I had the privilege, as have other Members, of hearing from General Austin, as well as the committee today.  By the way, in case you didn't notice, when you are talking about timetables relating to committee ratios, two weeks ago there was an insurrection in this Chamber.  It was disruptive of the normal pattern of unfolding.  We all had to adjust our schedules and address the needs of our Caucuses and this Congress accordingly, in case you didn't notice.

Again, my conversations with Secretary-designate have assured me that he understands, respects and will uphold the critical priority of civilian control of the military.  And he has spoken several times to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and members of the Committee and has given them similar assurances.  The Secretary-designate has further demonstrated his commitment to transparency with the Congress, respecting the weight of the decision that we make by, as I mentioned, meeting with members of the Armed Services Committee to discuss this issue earlier today.

In the face of the many threats, both foreign and domestic, confronting our nation, it is essential that Secretary-designate Austin be immediately confirmed.  Blocking this waiver would be a mistake that among other dangers would delay the urgent work to be done to restore the independence and capabilities of the Defense Department, which we must do as soon as possible.

With that, I urge a strong bipartisan vote to grant this waiver for Secretary-designate Lloyd Austin to be – to serve as Secretary of Defense.  I salute him for his patriotism, thank him for his heroism and look forward to calling him Mr. Secretary. 

With that, I yield back the balance of my time.