Home>Articles>N.J. Democrats who opposed waiver for Mattis must now decide Austin’s fate

President Barack Obama bids farewell to Gen. Lloyd Austin III at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 31, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

N.J. Democrats who opposed waiver for Mattis must now decide Austin’s fate

So Far, only one member of the New Jersey congressional delegation has announced support for Biden Defense Secretary pick

By David Wildstein, December 09 2020 11:16 am

When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a waiver for retired Marine Corps General James Mattis to serve as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense in 2017, New Jersey’s House delegation split along party lines.

Four years later, President-elect Joe Biden has nominated retired U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon.

Like Mattis, Austin needs waiver from Congress to bypass a law requiring Defense secretaries from holding the top civilian Pentagon post until seven years after their retirement from active military service.

When Mattis came before Congress, the New Jersey House delegation had seven Democrats and five Republicans.

All seven  Democrats – Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-Paterson), Albio Sires (D-West New York), Donald Payne (D-Newark), Donald Norcross (D-Camden), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) and Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) – voted against giving Trump’s nominee a waiver.

The five New Jersey Republican – Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding), Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor), Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) and Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) – voted to grant the waiver.

The House passed the waiver by a 268-151 votes, with 36 Democrats voting yes.

Now Austin will face a different New Jersey House delegation.

Four of the five Republicans who supported Mattis’ waiver are gone, and New Jersey now has 10 Democrats in the House.

Three New Jersey representatives serve on the House Armed Services Committee, which will consider the option question before it goes to a vote of the full House.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown), a former Obama White House National Security Council staffer who worked with Austin, announced on Tuesday that he would vote to approve the waiver.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), a retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, issued a statement saying that “civilian leadership over the military is one of our nation’s bedrock principles,” but promised to carefully consider the decision.

The third Democrat on the Armed Services panel, Norcross, has not yet stated his intentions.
New Jersey’s two Democratic U.S. Senators split on the Mattis waiver.

Bob Menendez voted to approve the waiver and Cory Booker voted against it.

The Senate approve the waiver, 81-17.

Menendez and Booker voted to confirm Mattis as Defense Secretary.  The Senate approved Trump’s Pentagon nominee by a 98-1 vote, with only Kirstin Gillibrand (D-New York) voting in opposition.

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