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Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Between the lines: Biden's top advisers feel pressure to announce an African American to a prominent Cabinet role. Earlier this week, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a top ally, said he was disappointed more African Americans had not been included in Biden's early selections.

  • Austin would be the first Black secretary of defense in American history.
  • The former head of U.S. Central Command, Austin retired from the Army in 2016. He would need a congressional waiver to serve, just as President Trump's first defense secretary, James Mattis, required as a recent military retiree.
  • Flournoy was never a foregone conclusion for secretary despite some media reporting suggesting the job was already hers.
  • The president-elect does not have the same deep, long-term relationship with her as he does, for example, with Tony Blinken, Flournoy's former business partner and Biden's nominee for secretary of state.

But, but, but: Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official, remains in contention, as do Johnson, a former Homeland Security secretary, and Duckworth, an Illinois senator and combat veteran of the Iraq War.

  • Johnson, who served as the Pentagon's general counsel in the early years of the Obama administration, is also in contention for attorney general, sources tell Axios.
  • Biden had considered Duckworth as his running mate.

Behind the scenes: When the president-elect omitted a candidate for secretary of defense from his marquee national security rollout, it raised questions about whether there were problems with Flournoy's nomination or a late-blooming candidate had eclipsed her.

The big picture: The Biden team wants to elevate diplomacy and de-emphasize the military as an instrument of national power.

  • "So having DoD rollout front-and-center sends one message," said a source close to Biden. "Not doing so sends another message. There has always been the intent to signal from Day One that this is not an administration that is going to put the Pentagon at the center of things."
  • Biden said Tuesday: "This team meets this moment. They embody my core belief that America is strongest when it works with its allies."

Go deeper

Hispanic congressmen push for purge of Confederate renaming panel

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro wears a face mask during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill on September 16, 2020. PHOTO: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Two Hispanic congressmen, Reps. Joaquin Castro and Ruben Gallego, are asking Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to remove Trump loyalists from a panel charged with renaming 10 Army bases that honor Confederate leaders.

Why it matters: The request, outlined in a letter Friday written by Castro and Gallego, comes as the Biden administration purges remaining Trump-era appointees and as Hispanic and Black leaders demand that some Army bases be renamed after people of color.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
9 mins ago - Economy & Business

The state worst hit by the pandemic

Data: Hamilton Place Strategies; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the job facing governments was to save lives and save jobs. Very few states did well on both measures, while New York, almost uniquely, did particularly badly on both.

Why it matters: The jury is still out on whether there was a trade-off between the dual imperatives; a new analysis from Hamilton Place Strategies shows no clear correlation between the two.

The U.S. credibility chasm on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The biggest hurdle for President Biden in winning new emissions reduction commitments at this week's White House summit is America's on-again, off-again history of climate change efforts.

Why it matters: The global community is off course to meet the temperature targets contained in the Paris Climate Agreement. The White House wants the summit Thursday and Friday to begin to change that.