Austin Confirmed to Be 1st Black Defense Secretary
The Senate on Jan. 22 confirmed Lloyd Austin to become the nation’s first Black Defense Secretary, one day after approving a waiver allowing him to lead the Pentagon just five years after he retired from Active duty.
Austin, who retired in 2016 as the four-star commander of U.S. Central Command after 40 years in service, becomes President Joe Biden’s Defense Secretary after a quick and relatively easy confirmation process despite consternation from many lawmakers about the further erosion of civilian oversight of the military. He is expected to be sworn in later on Jan. 22.
The Senate’s confirmation vote of 93-2 came the day after the chamber approved the waiver by a vote of 69-27, avoiding the seven-year “cooling off” period required for military officials to become the civilian leader of the Pentagon. The Senate moved quickly, voting immediately after the House approved the waiver by a vote of 326-78, with 28 not voting. Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri voted no on the nomination.
Austin met with House leaders behind closed doors shortly before the waiver vote on Jan. 21, and multiple lawmakers changed their minds to approve the waiver after the meeting. Austin spent a large portion of his Jan. 19 confirmation hearing attempting to assure lawmakers he is committed to ensuring civilians control the military.
“I would not be here asking for your support if I felt that I was unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served, in operations I once led, or [if I was] too afraid to speak my mind to you or the President,” Austin told Senators.
The confirmation makes history as Austin becomes the first Black Defense Secretary, just about six months Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. became the military’s first Black uniformed service leader.
Throughout his career, Austin also served as the vice chief of staff of the Army, the commanding general of U.S. Forces-Iraq, and the director of the Joint Staff, among many other assignments. After retiring, he served on the board of Raytheon Technologies and told Senators in the hearing that he would recuse himself from decisions related to the company for the entirety of his term, even though the requirement is just one year.