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WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's nomination of Lloyd Austin has set up a tough question for Congress: confirm the first Black secretary of defense or reinforce a 73-year-old law designed to keep recently retired military officers from running the Pentagon.

Austin, 67, a four-star general, led the U.S. Central Command before retiring in 2016. He needs a waiver from a 1947 law that sought to bolster civilian control of the military by requiring a seven-year cooling-off period for officers after relief from active duty.

Lawmakers are divided on whether to grant it.
“I understand the importance of civilian control. I have some concerns about being asked to do a waiver,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who sits on the Armed Services Committee that will oversee the nomination, said. “So I will be taking those into consideration.”

Unlike the process of confirming nominees which is done by just the Senate, this type of exemption must be approved by both chambers. Just two Pentagon nominees have received waivers since the requirement was enacted after World War II: Harry Truman's pick of George Marshall in 1950, and President Donald Trump's choice of James Mattis in 2017.

During the Trump administration, there was concern that policy decisions historically made by civilians have been left to military brass. And that is driving a desire by some to see another civilian take over when Biden becomes president

Jim Golby, a senior fellow at the University of Texas at Austin's Clements Center for National Security, argues that a waiver shouldn’t be granted. He said the Mattis waiver was predicated on having a military leader to stabilize decision-making under an inexperienced president, whereas Biden's goal is a return to normalcy.

"If Congress grants this waiver, it will be very difficult to re-establish this law as mattering in practice," he said. "The more we blur the lines between civilian and military, the more we will weaken our military and make it more political and less effective. We'll end up with liberal generals and conservative generals, not American generals."

The issue isn't breaking along party lines. Some Republicans, including Senate Armed Services Chair James Inhofe, R-Okla., say they support suspending the seven-year rule.

“I always support waivers,” he told reporters Tuesday, without weighing in on Austin. “Because I don't believe that we should have the seven years in there anyway.”

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Congress will evaluate an exemption from the law.

“That’s the exception, not the rule,” Thune told reporters Tuesday. “We did that for Mattis. And so I think it’s something that there’s a reason we have civilian oversight of the defense department. But again I’m not ruling it in or ruling it out, it’s just something, we’ll have to consider when the time comes.”

Goodson was fatally shot by Franklin County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jason Meade, but the details of what led up to the shooting differ between the authorities and Goodson's family. Meade, who had been taking part in an unsuccessful search for a fugitive along with the U.S. Marshals Service, said Goodson -- who was not the target of the search -- waved a gun at him when he drove by his police car. Meade confronted Goodson outside his home, and he refused to drop his gun, U.S. Marshal Peter Tobin said at a press conference last Friday.

But Goodson's family said he was returning from a dentist appointment and had a Subway sandwich in his hand, according to family co-counsel Sean L. Walton.

"Casey had the screen door open and his keys in the door, and Deputy Jason Meade fired shots at Casey," Walton told ABC News on Tuesday. "He fell into the house, where he lay in his kitchen."

The preliminary cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the torso, the Franklin County Coroner's Office said in a statement Wednesday. However, the coroner said she cannot determine the direction of the bullets without further investigation, ABC Columbus affiliate WSYX reported.

Goodson's mother, Tamala Payne, told ABC News she was at work when she heard her son had been shot.

"[Meade] took an oath to serve and protect and clearly that's not what he does. ... Therefore, I want justice for my son," Payne told ABC News.

"My 5-year-old called me, crying and screaming, 'Mommy, Casey just got shot,'" said Payne, who added that the child witnessed Goodson's death.

Police said a gun was found at the scene, but Goodson's family said he was a legal gun owner.

According to a statement released by the Columbus Police Department, many facts about the incident will remain unknown until the investigation is completed. The Columbus Police Department is investigating the shooting, as the sheriff's office does not look into fatal shootings by its own deputies.

There is no police video of the shooting, because Franklin County Sheriff's task force officers are not issued body cameras.

Meade is a 17-year veteran of the sheriff's office, but he had been permanently assigned to work with the U.S. Marshals Service, according to WSYX.

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