The Senate has confirmed four-star general Lloyd Austin on Jan. 22, making him the nation’s first Black defense secretary.
The Senate voted 93 to 2 to confirm Austin, who had to be granted a special waiver to be confirmed to the position. Under the National Security Act of 1947, Congress prohibits any individual from serving as defense secretary within seven years of active-duty service. Since Austin retired in 2006, he needed both the House and Senate to grant him a waiver.
Both the House and Senate passed legislation granting Austin a waiver to lead the Pentagon on Jan. 21. The Senate approved Austin waiver by a 69-27 vote, while the House voted 326 to 78. Former President Donald Trump’s first Pentagon Chief James Mattis also needed a waiver.
Austin graduated from West Point in 1975, and the appointment breaks one of the longest running color barriers in the U.S. Government. The formerly retired general previously served a board member for Raytheon, one of the largest defense contractors in the U.S.
Austin tried to alleviate concerns of setting a dangerous precedent by granting two waivers for defense secretaries in four years. The former general promised to surround himself with “experienced, capable civilian leaders.”
“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces. The subordination of military power to the civil,” Austin said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 19.
Austin has more than four decades of military experience and led the U.S. Central Command during key military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, becoming the first Black American general officer to command an entire theater of war.
The 67-year-old will also have to deal with far-right extremism in the military. According to NPR, almost 20% of the people charged in the Capitol storm are currently serving in the military. Additionally, two National Guard members, who were assigned to Washington D.C. for Biden’s inauguration, were replaced due to their far-right ties.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Austin called far-right extremism a “critical issue” adding that better screening is needed for military recruits.