Praise rolls in for Biden’s Joint Chiefs pick, but confirmation may hit a snag

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Praise rolled in Thursday for President Biden’s next intended Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman pick, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., but the four-star general may still face a somewhat complicated confirmation process later this year.

Biden earlier in the day announced Brown as the nominee in the White House Rose Garden, calling him an “unflappable and highly effective leader.”

“He knows what it means to be in the thick of battle and how to keep your cool when things get hard,” Biden said.

What followed were several high-profile endorsements from the likes of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — whom Brown served under while Austin was head of U.S. Central Command and Brown was commander of Air Forces Central — and several top-ranking lawmakers and industry officials.

Austin called Brown an “outstanding joint warfighter and a thoughtful, strategic leader” who has also been “a model of strategic clarity and a powerful force for progress.”

“Gen. Brown is an inspiring and effective leader and a man of deep integrity and compassion. Throughout his career, he has insisted on doing right by his teammates and their families,” Austin added.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) praised the nominee as “imminently qualified” and “well-suited” to serve as the nation’s highest ranking military officer.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) expressed his support in a statement calling Brown a “trailblazer,” a “remarkable leader and an exceptional choice” given his “experience, ethos, talent, and skill this job demands.”

And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and ranking member of its defense subcommittee, said she has “valued General Brown’s extensive experience, focus, and thoughtfulness, all qualities he would bring to the role of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” and looks forward to the Senate “swiftly considering his nomination.”

Defense industry leaders also offered their support, with Eric Fanning, the president and CEO of major defense lobbying organization the Aerospace Industries Association, calling Brown “an excellent choice” that will bring a “wealth of experience, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, and … the right temperament and strategic approach to help lead our military as we face some of the most complex challenges of our lives.”

If confirmed, Brown would replace the current chair Army Gen. Mark Milley, who Thursday gave his own ringing endorsement of the Air Force leader, describing him as “absolutely superb.” Milley’s term expires at the start of October.

If approved by the Senate, Brown, 60, would become only the second Black man to become Joint Chiefs chairman, after Colin Powell.

But even with all the praise lavished upon Biden’s pick, Brown’s confirmation process may prove tricky.

More than 200 senior military appointments are currently being held up in the Senate due to Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) block on the confirmations. Tuberville objects to the Pentagon’s abortion policy that allocates travel funds and support for troops and their dependents who are based in states that do not permit abortions but seek to terminate pregnancies elsewhere due to rape, incest or danger to the life and health of the mother.

When reached for comment, Tuberville’s office said he “has a great deal of respect for General Brown and looks forward to voting on his nomination.”

Asked further whether he foresees his current holdout to be resolved by the time the Senate must vote on Brown’s nomination, Tuberville’s office did not reply.

Brown also is likely to face pointed questions from Republican senators at a time when the GOP has decried “woke” policies within the Pentagon.

Indignation exists among some Republican lawmakers over Defense Department efforts to find and remove extremist ideology within the ranks, an objective begun under the Biden administration that the GOP views as only serving to politicize the military.

Administration officials and most Democratic lawmakers, however, say programs and training to recognize hateful rhetoric and ideology among military personnel or potential recruits are necessary to keep out those who would taint the ranks.

In June 2020, Brown waded headfirst into the issue when, just a week from being confirmed by the Senate to serve as Air Force chief of staff, he released a video to the service addressing the Minneapolis police officers’ murder of George Floyd.

Brown spoke on camera of his experiences of “living in two worlds” as a Black man and as a military officer, noting that his own experiences “didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.”

Arnold Punaro, a retired two-star Marine Corps general and a former Senate Armed Services Committee staff director, predicted that Brown will not face any major snags based on his past comments, though he will get questioned on those topics.

“What tends to happen in areas like this is the senator with the issue/question makes a rather lengthy statement and then the nominee has time for a much shorter answer,” Punaro told The Hill.

But the topic will be one of many, including military recruiting and retention, sexual harassment in the ranks, suicide, munitions stocks and defense budget levels in Ukraine, Russia, North Korea, Iran and China.

“You have to put the social issues in this perspective. One might argue all are big issues,” Punaro said.

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