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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

Updated Mar 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden Cabinet tracker: Which nominees have been confirmed

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

All of President Biden's Cabinet nominees have now been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The big picture: Biden now has known, trusted people around him, many from the Obama administration, to help implement his policies and turn away from the tumultuous Trump years.

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.

6 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.