The Senate confirmed Lloyd J. Austin III as Secretary of Defense on Friday, holding a national security critical post in President Biden’s cabinet and elevating him to the post of chief black Pentagon.
The 93-2 vote came a day after Congress granted General Austin, a retired four-star Army general, a special waiver to hold the post, which is required for any Secretary of Defense who has been out of active military service for less than seven years. This reflected a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill that there was an urgent need for Mr Biden to get his defense choice installed quickly, a step normally taken on the first day of a new president.
“This is an extraordinary and historic moment,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “A significant portion of our armed forces today are African Americans or Latinos, and now they can see themselves at the top of the Department of Defense, which makes the notion of opportunity real.
Mr Austin, 67, is the only African-American to have led the US Central Command, the military’s flagship combat command responsible for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. He retired in 2016 after 41 years in the military and is widely respected throughout the military.
Lawmakers on both sides were initially worried about granting General Austin an exception to the statutory ban on recently retired military personnel serving as Pentagon chiefs, a law intended to maintain civilian control of the military. . They had already done it four years ago for President Donald J. Trump’s First Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, a retired four-star Navy officer, and many had vowed not to do so again.
But in the face of intense pressure from officials of Mr. Biden’s Transition Team and the Main Democrats, and after receiving assurances from General Austin that he was committed to the principle of civilian oversight, lawmakers backed down. are rallied behind a candidate who breaks the barrier. Two Republicans, Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah, voted against the confirmation.
Even though 43% of the 1.3 million active duty men and women in the United States are people of color, the leaders at the top of the military chain of command have remained remarkably white and masculine. When President Barack Obama chose General Austin to lead the United States Central Command, he became one of the highest ranked black men in the military, just behind Colin L. Powell, who had served as Chairman of the Joint. Chiefs of Staff.
Mr Austin will be the first black Pentagon chief since the post was created in 1947 – just nine months before President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces, Representative Anthony Brown, Democrat of Maryland and a black colonel at the retirement in the army. Reserve, noted.
“Secretary Austin’s confirmation is a historic first and symbolizes the culmination of the nearly 75-year march towards true integration of the department,” said Brown. “He is well positioned to build on his experiences as a seasoned military commander, respected leader and as a black man who grew up in apartheid to advance progress as the next Secretary of Defense.