The U.S. Senate confirmed Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense on Friday (Jan. 22), making him the first Black person to hold the position, the Associated Press reports. This approval is the second confirmation to the Biden-Harris administration cabinet. Avril Haines was confirmed Thursday as director of national intelligence.
President Biden had selected Austin, a retired four-star Army general, prior to being inaugurated, remarking in a December essay published in The Atlantic that he was impressed with what he saw in 2010 when Austin showed his leadership talents in Iraq at Camp Victory.
“Just over a year later, in December 2011, I returned to al-Faw palace, joining Austin in a ceremony honoring American and Iraqi service members as our forces left the country,” Biden wrote. “General Austin got the job done. He played a crucial role in bringing 150,000 American troops home from the theater of war. Pulling that off took more than just the skill and strategy of a seasoned soldier. It required Austin to practice diplomacy, building relationships with our Iraqi counterparts and with our partners in the region.”
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The body voted overwhelmingly 93-2 to approve the West Point graduate to helm the Pentagon. During the Trump administration, multiple people held that job.Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri were the only ones who voted against Austin.
The confirmation was complicated because, since Austin retired in 2016, rules prohibit retired military officers from serving as Secretary of Defense for seven years. But a congressional waiver of the prohibition was approved on Thursday.
According to the AP, Austin was also the first Black chief of staff for the Army and was the first Black general to head the U.S. Central Command, according to the AP.
He said he understood the "reservation" some might have about having another retired general run the defense department during his confirmation hearing. But he said that he sees the role as different than that of a military official.
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"The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil," Austin told the Senate committee. "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.
"If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security, and I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended," he said.