18:00 GMT20 January 2021
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    Projected US President-elect Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure within his own Democratic Party over whom to select as his defense secretary, with Black leaders urging him to select an African American and others encouraging him to choose a woman.

    Biden on Monday revealed that he plans to announce his pick for US defense secretary on Friday.

    The leading female candidate for the role is Michele Flournoy, a defense policy adviser and former government official who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy under former US President Bill Clinton and as under secretary of defense for policy for former US President Barack Obama's administration.

    However, a coalition of at least seven progressive groups has urged Biden to avoid Flournoy in an open letter viewed by the Associated Press (AP). In the letter, the coalition warns Biden that Flournoy, with an "opaque history of private-sector activity," has a record of "ill-advised policy decisions," referencing Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan.

    “Ms. Flournoy’s consistent support for military interventions has contributed to devastating crises around the world, including in Yemen,” Jehan Hakim, chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, wrote in the letter, AP reported.

    Other potential contenders for the role include retired Army General Lloyd Austin and Jeh Johnson, a former US secretary of homeland security, both of whom are Black. Johnson also served as the general counsel of the Department of Defense during the early years of the Obama administration.

    According to three people with knowledge on the matter who spoke to Politico, Austin is now a leading contender for the position. Although Johnson is also being considered for the job, two sources, one of whom is a House Democratic aide, told the outlet that there are concerns about Johnson's tenure under Obama. Johnson has been criticized for scaling up family detention and deportations of undocumented immigrants and approving drone strikes that injured or killed civilians.

    Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MO), a Congressional Black Caucus member, revealed to Politico that "if either [Austin or Johnson] were selected, [she] would be happy."

    "A lot of people are anxiously awaiting to see what the Cabinet looks like once it’s completed, but also note the fact that the African American numbers need to be better than what they are at this point," Thompson added.

    The Biden team believes that Austin may be the safe choice, one former defense official with knowledge on the matter also told Politico.

    “His star is rising,” the official noted, adding that Austin would be the “controlled option.”

    However, others have argued that Austin, who has not been out of the military for the required seven years and would need a waiver from Congress to become secretary of defense, is a poor choice.

    “From a civil-military relations perspective, this seems like a terrible idea,” tweeted Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official. “Lots of damage during the Trump era. Especially after Mattis, Kelly, McMaster, Flynn ... putting a recently retired 4 star, no matter how wonderful, into the top civilian DoD [Department of Defense] position sends the worst possible message.”

    ​Biden has already revealed his picks for his national security team: Tony Blinken for secretary of state, Alejandro Mayorkas for homeland security secretary, Jake Sullivan for national security adviser, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations, Janet Yellen as the designated secretary of the Treasury and Wally Adeyemo as the deputy secretary of the Treasury, The Hill reported.

    Also on Monday, Biden told reporters that he plans to name his pick for attorney general this week as well, MarketWatch reported. Moreover, a transition official also noted Monday that Biden will announce the nominees for his economic and domestic cabinet before the end of this week and additional members of his cabinet before Christmas, Reuters reported.


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