WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin as the nation’s first Black defense secretary, the second nominee of President Joe Biden to be confirmed by the chamber.
Austin is a retired four-star Army general who will be the first Black secretary of defense. He was the first Black general to command an Army division in combat and also the first to oversee an entire theater of operations as the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Austin’s confirmation process wasn’t without bumps. Controversy flared over a law barring recently retired military officers from serving as the defense secretary, but top Democrats lined up behind Austin’s nomination, citing the need for Biden to have his national security team in place after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The law requires that troops be retired for seven years before taking the post.
The House passed a waiver from the law for Austin on Thursday afternoon, and the Senate followed suit shortly after.
Some lawmakers had expressed concern about granting another waiver for Austin after they had done so for Trump’s first defense secretary Jim Mattis, but they ultimately supported Austin.
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The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said on the Senate floor Austin was an “exceptionally qualified leader” and said Austin had pledged to uphold civilian control of the military during his confirmation hearing.
And the top Senate Armed Services Committee Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said he could not “think of a better person to take the helm than General Austin.” The waiver had been “overwhelmingly supported,” Inhofe added.
Austin cleared the Senate in a 93-2 vote with Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah voting against his confirmation.
On Wednesday — hours after Biden was inaugurated as president — the Senate approved Avril Haines as the nation’s intelligence chief. Haines, who previously served as the deputy director of the CIA, is the first woman to serve as Director of National Intelligence.
In her post as director of national intelligence, Haines will oversee 18 U.S. spy and law enforcement agencies – from the CIA and the FBI to nine units under the Pentagon’s purview, including the newly added Space Force.
While the Senate has a host of Biden’s Cabinet positions to approve, senators have said those dealing with the nation’s security and intelligence would be prioritized. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday afternoon he also hoped to vote on treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen and secretary of state nominee Tony Blinken this week.