WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate on Friday voted to confirm retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as President Joe Biden’s defense secretary, making him the first Black American to serve in the role.
The Senate voted 93-2 to confirm Austin after both houses of Congress approved a waiver needed to allow him to serve as defense secretary. The waiver was required by law, as Austin retired from the military less than seven years before his nomination to serve as Pentagon chief.
According to the U.S. Code, “a person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.”
Congress granted a similar waiver in 2017 to retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who served two years as President Donald Trump’s defense secretary. Thirty-six House Democrats joined all but one Republican member in approving Mathis’s waiver, according to NPR. The lone GOP defection, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, did not seek reelection in 2020.
The only other military officer to be nominated to the post within the seven-year time frame was George Marshall, NPR reported. Marshall was a retired general when he was nominated by President Harry Truman in 1950.
The House approved the waiver for Austin on Thursday by a 326-78 vote, while the Senate passed the waiver by a 69-27 margin several hours later. That put Austin on a fast track to confirmation, according to The Associated Press.
Some lawmakers had raised concerns over having a second military commander serve as the head of the Department of Defense so soon after another, as the post has traditionally been held by civilians. During a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Austin assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that he plans to surround himself with qualified civilians who will be included in policy decisions, The Associated Press reported.
“I know that being a member of the president’s Cabinet -- a political appointee -- requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career in uniform,” Austin said Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.
Austin said that he plans to “uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended,” Politico reported.
“I would not be here, asking for your support, if I felt I was unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served and operations I once led, or too afraid to speak my mind to you or to the president,” he said, according to the news site.
Austin served in the military for 41 years before retiring in 2016 as a four-star general. He previously served under President Barack Obama as commander of U.S. Central Command. Previously, he led troops in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and oversaw U.S. military operations throughout the greater Middle East as head of Central Command. He has never before held a political position.
While announcing Austin’s nomination in December, Biden said that, if confirmed, Austin would be tasked with keeping the nation safe, helping to distribute COVID-19 vaccines nationwide, restoring American alliances, supporting military families, addressing the security threat caused by the climate crisis and modernizing the U.S. armed forces.