President-elect Joe Biden is facing criticism after he picked Lloyd Austin to serve as defense secretary, with some arguing that a woman with the same baggage as the retired general would not have been qualified for the role.
Michèle Flournoy, the longtime Pentagon policymaker who was a top contender for the position, faced a "double standard," Rachel Stohl, managing director of the Stimson Center, a foreign policy think tank, told Military.com.
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"There's really a double standard in terms of expectations for what a qualified candidate looks like, between men and women," Stohl said. "We're comfortable with a male … with defense industry ties, but we're not comfortable with a woman who has defense industry ties."
Liberal organizations, including anti-war women's group Code Pink and Progressive Democrats of America, attacked Flournoy for her ties to Pentagon contractors as Biden narrowed in on his pick for defense secretary. But Austin, who sits on the board of one of the Pentagon's largest contractors, evaded similar scrutiny. Now, the president-elect is facing criticism for failing to pick Flournoy, or a different woman, to take a lead national security role in his administration.
Susan Glasser, a New Yorker staff writer and CNN global affairs analyst, criticized Biden for failing to select a single woman to fill top national security roles.
"So no women as SecState, SecDef, or national security adviser in the Biden admin… just like no women in those roles for the last four years," Glasser tweeted on Monday.
In the lead up to Biden naming his defense secretary, progressives scrutinized Flournoy for her connections to Pentagon-affiliated contractors and agencies that invest in defense technology. Flournoy cofounded WestExec, a Democratic political consulting firm known for its secretive clientele list, alongside Antony Blinken—whom Biden tapped for secretary of state. She's also connected to Pine Island Capital Partners, an investment group that funds military technology contractors.
Austin, meanwhile, has a board position with Raytheon Technologies—a contractor tasked with designing aerospace technologies and missile defense systems. Austin pocketed $1.4 million from United Technologies, which merged with Raytheon Company this year, after he joined its ranks following his retirement from the military.
Like Flournoy, Austin also has ties to Pine Island.
If approved, Austin would be the first black man to serve as defense secretary. Although he is not technically eligible for the role—the law requires a defense secretary to be at least seven years removed from serving in the military—Congress can grant him a waiver, which it also provided former defense secretary Jim Mattis in 2017.
Biden has also faced criticism over his selection of minorities to fill cabinet and other high-level roles in his administration. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio) said black leaders are only ever considered for a position to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development—just before Biden tapped her to head that office.