Senate confirms Lloyd Austin, making him the nation's first Black defense secretary

Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY
·2 min read

WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Lloyd Austin on Friday 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. He was the first Black general to command an Army division in combat and 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 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 riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The law requires that an officer 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 expressed concern about granting another waiver 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, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, said on the Senate floor that Austin is an "exceptionally qualified leader" who pledged to uphold civilian control of the military during his confirmation hearing.

The committee's top Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said he could not "think of a better person to take the helm than Gen. Austin." The waiver was "overwhelmingly supported," Inhofe added.

Austin cleared the Senate in a 93-2 vote: Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah voted against his confirmation.

Wednesday – hours after Biden was inaugurated as president – the Senate approved Avril Haines as the nation's intelligence chief. Haines, who served as the deputy director of the CIA, is the first woman to serve 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.

Among a host of Biden's Cabinet positions to approve, senators said, those dealing with the nation's security and intelligence would be prioritized. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday afternoon he hoped to vote on treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen and secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken this week.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lloyd Austin becomes nation's first Black defense secretary