Biden taps Trump appointee Norquist to be his temporary Defense secretary

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President-elect Joe Biden is tapping current Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist to temporarily run the Pentagon while the new team works to confirm a permanent DoD chief, according to four people familiar with discussions.

Norquist, the Pentagon’s No. 2 since July 2019, will take over after the inauguration and be in charge until the Senate confirms retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin for the position.

Austin’s confirmation has been delayed as the next administration seeks a waiver for him to serve, which must be approved by both houses of Congress. Retired officers are required to be out of uniform for seven years before becoming Defense secretary, and Austin retired in 2016.

As the No. 2 at the Pentagon who has served under three of President Donald Trump’s Defense secretaries, Norquist was the expected choice to lead the Pentagon through the transition. A budget wonk who served as DoD comptroller under former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Norquist has managed to stay out of the spotlight throughout the duration of the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, Thomas Harker, the acting DoD comptroller, will serve as acting Navy secretary, and John Roth, Air Force comptroller, will serve as acting Air Force secretary, according to a Defense official and a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the subject.

As the incoming team gets briefed for their new roles, several Trump appointees are tendering their resignation. Anthony Tata, the controversial acting Pentagon policy chief who once called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader,” will step down this week, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, according to three Defense officials.

Tata, a retired Army brigadier general Fox News regular before joining the Trump administration this year, was one of a slew of Trump loyalists who assumed top Pentagon jobs after the November election, when the White House ousted senior Defense Department leadership.

All of Trump’s political appointees are expected to tender their resignations by Jan. 20. But some, like Tata, are departing early, replaced by career civil servants who will lead the department through the transition.

Jennifer Walsh, currently the principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, will take over from Tata as acting undersecretary of Defense for policy. The choice of an official focused on Homeland Defense to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop comes as 20,000 National Guardsmen pour into Washington, D.C., to respond to domestic terrorism threats around inauguration.

Tata has traveled frequently in recent weeks, including stops in Malabo, Equitorial Guinea, and Morocco.

Tata is one of several controversial people Trump chose for top national security jobs last year. During the post-election Pentagon purge, Trump fired Mark Esper and installed acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, a former counterterrorism expert on the National Security Council, in his place. The White House also pushed out James Anderson, the policy chief, and moved White House loyalists Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Kash Patel into senior roles.

Trump picked Tata last year for the top policy job, but his nomination collapsed after CNN unearthed tweets calling Obama a “terrorist leader” and referring to Islam as the "most oppressive violent religion I know of.” He also derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Twitter and shared an article that promoted a conspiracy theory that Obama was a "Manchurian candidate.” Tata later told lawmakers he regretted the now-deleted tweets.

Meanwhile, Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia and a career civil servant who testified before Congress during Trump’s impeachment trial last year, will take over as the acting assistant official in charge of international security affairs.

Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

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