Joining the diverse chorus of voices calling on President-elect Joe Biden to fulfill his broad promise to “build back better,” a pair of House Democrats is urging him to refrain from picking a former defense contractor to lead the Pentagon.
Writing as co-chairs of the recently launched Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) sent a letter to Biden congratulating him on a victory that President Donald Trump still refuses to accept.
Lee and Pocan also highlighted Trump’s history of appointing Cabinet members with problematic ties to private industries, particularly with secretaries of defense, and encouraged Biden to take a different approach.
“Appointing a secretary of defense without ties to defense contractors would be a tremendous step in the public’s interest, and would help restore confidence lost due to the Trump administration’s corruption,” Lee said in a statement.
As co-chairs of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus, @repmarkpocan & I are hopeful that the new admin will end the revolving door of the defense industry’s influence on our national security priorities.
It’s time we stop the backroom deals & put people over profit.
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) November 12, 2020
In the letter, dated November 10 but posted on Twitter by Pocan Thursday, the lawmakers write:
The most recent secretary of defense, Mark Esper, who was fired by Donald Trump yesterday, was employed as a lobbyist for Raytheon prior to being appointed secretary of defense. His predecessor, Patrick Shanahan, was a 30-year Boeing executive before President Trump nominated him to become secretary of defense. And Jim Mattis, President Trump’s first secretary of defense, served on the board of General Dynamics for four years before being noticed by the president. Additionally, nearly half of all senior Defense Department officials are connected to military contractors.
“Despite President Trump’s boast that he would ‘drain the swamp’ and hire only ‘the best people,’ he has continuously failed to do so,” they add. “We strongly encourage you to reject the mistaken nominations of the Trump era.”
The letter cites a November 2018 report from the Project On Government Oversight entitled Brass Parachutes: The Problem of the Pentagon Revolving Door as well as former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning in his 1961 farewell address about guarding against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the military-industrial complex.
Welcoming Lee and Pocan’s letter in a tweet Thursday, the advocacy group Peace Action said that their suggestion “should be basic common sense” but thanked the lawmakers “for taking the lead” in demanding a Pentagon leader without a defense contractor past.
“American national security should not be defined by the bottom lines of Boeing, General Dynamics, and Ratheon,” declared Pocan. “Instead of draining the swamp, Donald Trump ensured that his Pentagon lined the pockets of America’s most profitable defense contractors. President-elect Joe Biden has an opportunity to take profits out of policy and build back better. The American people deserve a defense secretary that puts the American people’s safety above corporate profits.”
A week after introducing a measure to cut the U.S. defense budget by 10%, House Appropriations Committee members Lee and Pocan announced in July the creation of the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus. As Pocan explained at the time, “With this new caucus, we hope to lead Congress in decreasing and redirecting the defense budget.”