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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Lloyd Austin will begin courtesy calls with Congress next week, but his nomination to be Defense secretary may not even make it out of committee unless Republicans help grant the waiver he needs to hold the job, people familiar with the matter say.

The big picture: While civil rights groups are hailing Austin’s nomination to be the first Black Defense secretary, some Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee have already said they oppose the waiver, leaving it up to Republicans to rescue him — and some predict the vote will fail in committee.

The close math could mean Austin's confirmation hinges on his public testimony, especially about how he'll ensure civilian control over the military. The retired general needs a waiver because he has not been out of the armed forces for more than seven years.

  • "We have been gratified by the support secretary-designate Austin has received from lawmakers of both parties," said a transition official. "We are confident his barrier-breaking nomination will garner the support it deserves."

By the numbers: The waiver requirement will likely create a three-step process: a vote in both the House and Senate on a bill granting it and then a vote just in the Senate on the nomination itself.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to have 27 members, and if Republicans keep control of the Senate, it'll be 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

  • Four Democrats — Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand and Tammy Duckworth — have publicly indicated they won’t support a waiver.
  • Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the committee, is noncommittal. He voted in 2017 to approve a waiver for James Mattis, President Trump's first secretary of Defense, but said, “I will not support a waiver for future nominees."
  • In a statement last week, Reed said, "One cannot separate the waiver from the individual who has been nominated."
  • On the Republican side, Sen. Tom Cotton expressed "real reservations" for the waiver in a Fox interview, and Chair Jim Inhofe has only offered mild public support.

In the House, Democrats are in the majority and hold a narrow margin on the Armed Services Committee.

Axios' Alayna Treene reports that some Senate Republicans have floated the idea of voting for the waiver but against Austin. That would help them avoid charges of hypocrisy for supporting the Mattis waiver.

  • Hill aides told Alayna that Austin's military prowess and gripping speech after Biden announced his nomination this week earned him major brownie points with both parties.

The reverse also could happen: Some Democrats could oppose the waiver but approve the nomination.

  • Gillibrand appeared to leave herself some wiggle room. “I am not," approving a waiver, she told Axios' Kadia Goba, "but I will meet with him and review his qualifications for the job.”

Flashback: Mattis’ waiver passed 81-17 in the Senate and 268-151 in the House, with key Democratic senators including Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Dick Durbin, Chris Murphy and Duckworth voting no.

  • “How can anyone justify voting for a different outcome for a highly qualified Black man compared to how Mattis was treated?” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweeted.

Go deeper

Top Democrats introduce bill to raise minimum wage to $15 by 2025

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A group of top Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation to gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour over five years.

Why it matters: The policy, which has widespread support among Democratic lawmakers, aligns with what President Joe Biden has called for in his emergency COVID-19 relief package. It would more than double the current minimum wage of $7.25.

Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden on Trump's impeachment trial: "I think it has to happen"

President Biden told CNN Monday that he believes the impeachment trial of former President Trump "has to happen," but he does not think 17 Republicans will join Democrats to vote to convict.

Why it matters: Biden's comments are most concrete he has made about his views on Trump's second impeachment.

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.