By Ellie Kaufman, Oren Liebermann and Ali Zaslav, CNN
Senators are concerned that President Joe Biden has not named a nominee for one of the most senior positions at the Pentagon, with the job becoming vacant at the end of November.
Biden has yet to name a successor to Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten who is set to retire on November 21.
The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the fourth highest position at the department and serves second to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley. The Vice Chairman represents the military in National Security Council deputies’ meetings and oversees joint military requirements. If the position is left vacant, the Chairman and other military leaders will be forced to pick up the slack until a nominee is named and confirmed by the Senate.
Senators on Capitol Hill who serve on the Armed Services Committee, both Republican and Democrat, are growing concerned that the White House has not nominated someone to replace Hyten with only a month to go before his retirement.
Sen. Tim Kaine, who sits on the committee, told CNN that he is “puzzled” as to why the White House has not yet nominated someone for this key position.
“The timing, I mean, we’re getting very close to it. I’m puzzled,” said the Virginia Democrat. “I’ll just say that I’m puzzled by why not. We need somebody in that position.”
After the White House nominates someone for the position, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing in committee before the full Senate holds a final vote on confirmation of the nominee.
The nomination confirmation process does not happen overnight. With coordination with the Pentagon and a relatively “clean” nominee, a nominee can be processed within 15-30 days, though the average timeline is usually longer than that, a Republican committee aide told CNN.
Hyten’s nomination took six months, the aide said.
Senior Republican says lack of nominee is ‘alarming’
“The law is clear, so it should come as no surprise to President Biden that the Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff position will be vacant soon, yet here we are, just over a month out from General Hyten’s departure, and President Biden has yet to put forward a nomination,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican member of the committee, said in a statement to CNN. “Given the enormous threats we face worldwide, it Is alarming that President Biden would risk the number-two military advisor position sitting empty.”
Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican who sits on the committee, said she wants the White House to nominate someone so the committee has ample time to review the nomination before a nomination hearing.
“I think the White House should do their job and get their nominations in, so we have time to review them,” Sen. Fischer said.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, criticized the Biden administration for moving so slow on many nominations, even for important positions like Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It’s completely inexplicable,” he said.
Wicker added that he doesn’t know what to make of it other than it’s a “failure to get their act together”
The White House said on Tuesday they did not have any personnel announcements to read out but said Biden “obviously” wants to find the “right person” for the role.
“I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of personnel announcements. Obviously, he wants to find the right person to serve in such an important role,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
Senate Republicans are also concerned because they will be balancing the nomination of a potential successor to Hyten at the same time the most important piece of legislation for their committee will likely end up on the Senate floor — the National Defense Authorization Act.
Sen. Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the NDAA will likely get to the Senate floor before Thanksgiving.
It usually takes about 10 days of floor time to complete the bill. Republicans have been hammering Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for not bringing the bill to the floor yet.
With a week of recess already on the calendar in November for both chambers, time is running out to hold a confirmation hearing for a potential successor to Hyten and confirm him on the floor before November 21.
It is possible to leave the Vice Chairman position vacant, and it has happened before. Before Hyten became Vice Chairman, the former Vice Chairman Paul Selva left the position on July 31, 2019 and Hyten did not assume the role of Vice Chairman until four months later.
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CNN’s Manu Raju contributed reporting.