Joe Biden Has Been Elected President. Here’s What That Means for the Military

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden
Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the parking lot outside the United Auto Workers Region 1 offices on September 9, 2020 in Warren, Michigan. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to lead the nation as commander in chief with a steady hand, challenging increasing competition from China and Russia and reforging ties with European and other allies.

Biden was declared the winner in Pennsylvania Nov. 7, putting him at 273 electoral votes and clinching the presidency. The Associated Press, which also, unlike the major news networks, has called Arizona for Biden, reported he led by 34,458 votes in Pennsylvania when the state was called for him.

That result is likely to face legal challenges from the campaign of President Donald Trump.

"Joe Biden has not been certified as the winner of any states, let alone any of the highly contested states headed for mandatory recounts, or states where our campaign has valid and legitimate legal challenges that could determine the ultimate victor," Trump said in a released statement. "In Pennsylvania, for example, our legal observers were not permitted meaningful access to watch the counting process.  Legal votes decide who is president, not the news media."

if the results stand, as is expected, Biden will navigate national security challenges with a slimmer budget, having promised to shed legacy equipment or systems that aren't "relevant for tomorrow's wars."

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"I will be a commander in chief who always lives up to our most sacred obligation to protect our men and women in uniform and honors the sacrifice they and their families make," Biden said in a statement posted to his website Sept. 19.

He has pledged to end the "forever wars" in Afghanistan and the Middle East and, like his predecessor, said he would pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan "in his first timer," he told Military Officer magazine last month.

Any residual presence in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq and Syria, would be "focused only on counterterrorism operations and supporting local partners," he said.

"When I take office, I will want to hear from both our military leadership and our civilian security experts, as well as our allies before making final decisions on where and how we should adjust our overseas presence," Biden said.

Defense budgets could shrink under Biden, who told Military Officer magazine, "We can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less."

"The real question is not how much we invest -- it's how we invest," he said.

That could leave big-ticket plans that emerged under the Trump administration -- such as the recently announced plans to build a 500-ship Navy fleet -- on the chopping block.

Biden said he'll prioritize "smart investments in technologies and innovations" to meet future threats, including in cyber, space, unmanned systems and artificial intelligence.

"We have to move away from investments in legacy systems that won't be relevant for tomorrow's wars," he told Military Officer, "and we have to rethink the contributions we and our allies make to our collective security."

But even with a leaner Defense Department, Biden has said he will seek to exert national power by increasing reliance on other tools such as diplomacy, economic strategy, education and science and technology.

"We do not need large deployments of combat forces to maintain our security," he said.

Biden has promised to relaunch Joining Forces, a program that supports military families and veterans that his wife Jill jump-started with first lady Michelle Obama. While the operations tempo is not the same as it was when Biden was vice president, he said the White House will ensure that military personnel receive competitive wages and families are supported, with the resources they need to thrive, including improved child care and opportunities for employment and career advancement.

"The Bidens are a military family, and we know that military families serve, too. After two decades of sustained warfare, it is our duty to ensure that military families have the necessary support to thrive," he told Military Officer.

For families hoping that some Trump-era changes remain, regarding benefits such as housing improvements, Biden said he will "never balance the budget on the backs of military men and women and their families."

He pledged to continue working on the tenant bill of rights designed to support service members living in privatized housing and hold the companies that build and maintain the properties accountable to residents and taxpayers.

He also promised to assess planned health care reforms at the DoD, saying that no beneficiaries should be transitioned to private care until the data is available showing that communities can support an influx of new patients.

"Individuals' needs should be assessed to make sure that any such transfer does not lower the quality of their health care," he said.

He would also order a review of the services' plans to reduce their medical personnel positions -- an effort underway to cut more than 17,000 jobs.

Regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs, Biden said he will expand benefits to ensure that victims of burn pits or exposure to military-related pollutants have access to health care and compensation, and added that he plans to improve access to community care under the Mission Act, which he said was not properly initiated and has been underfunded.

"My administration will strike the right balance between VA and community care, but do it in a timely, responsible and accountable way for our veterans," he said.

He also pledged to expand telehealth opportunities and focus on veteran suicide and homelessness, giving them the "attention and priority that they demand."

The former senator and vice president also said he would follow the recommendation of a congressional commission that women register for the Selective Service System, but he said there is no need for a draft.

"We should explore targeted recruiting efforts to build a military that is more geographically and demographically representative of the nation as a whole and that has the skill sets needed for modern warfare," Biden said.

In an opinion piece for Fox News on Monday, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, a Republican who served under President Bill Clinton, called Biden a "steady, stable, responsible leader who has steered our country through difficult storms in the past."

"At the very core of Joe's being is a visible sense of decency, a genuine humility and a deep-seated empathy for the pain of others," Cohen wrote.

Who Biden will choose to lead the Department of Defense, as well as Veterans Affairs, remains to be seen. Michele Flournoy, the former under secretary of defense for policy and cofounder of the prominent think tank Center for a New American Security, has been at the top of many speculative lists.

Lawrence Korb, an analyst with the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, said, however, that Biden may choose a woman with combat experience, like Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs in Iraq.

It's time, Korb added, for a woman to lead the Pentagon, after 27 men have held the position.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: President Trump Proclaims November 2020 National Veterans and Military Families Month

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