The United States Congress is moving quickly to approve President Joe Biden’s candidate for Secretary of Defense, retired General Lloyd Austin.
The House of Representatives on Thursday voted 326-78 to provide a legal waiver allowing General Austin to become the top U.S. government official overseeing the U.S. military. The Senate approved the waiver shortly thereafter, 69-27.
U.S. law has reserved the post of secretary of defense for civilians or military retirees for at least seven years. Austin retired in 2016, less than five years ago, triggering the need for a Congressional waiver to fill the post. With votes from the House and Senate, the Senate is expected to confirm Austin tonight.
Representative Adam Smith, Democrat and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, hailed Austin as “only” qualified and said the “complex threat environment” the United States faced made its installation urgent. to the Pentagon quickly.
Austin, who had worked with President Biden on the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2010, met with members of the Armed Services Committee earlier today.
In a “very, very successful briefing,” Austin showed respect for the oversight role of Congress and a “genuine” interest in answering questions from House members, Smith said.
Republicans and Congressional Democrats have expressed concern about the Trump administration’s handling of the Department of Defense and the military, placing some urgency on Austin’s confirmation.
Austin would replace former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, who was Trump’s fourth unconfirmed official since former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in 2018 in a dispute with Trump.
“The disruption President Trump has brought to the Pentagon cannot be understated. The disruption has been huge, ”Smith said.
“They need a fully confirmed Secretary of Defense to start cleaning up the mess at the Pentagon,” he said.
In the Senate, the Armed Services Committee approved the waiver for Austin and its confirmation earlier Thursday.
Speaking to the entire Senate, Dan Sullivan, a Republican, strongly supported Austin. The two had served together in Iraq and Sullivan had seen Austin at work in a command role.
“What I’ve seen is respect and integrity, and someone who knows how to get things done in a tough environment,” Sullivan said in remarks in the Senate.
“We are living through difficult times, a pandemic, racial tensions, riots, unrest at the top of the Pentagon and increasing dangers from China, Russia and Iran,” Sullivan said.
Austin “represents the best of America, a man of integrity, humility and character with a wealth of relevant experience,” said Sullivan.
Austin, 67, came from humble beginnings to his hometown of Thomasville, Georgia, to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1975.
He was appointed a second lieutenant and rose through the ranks to become head of US Central Command in 2013, overseeing US forces in the Middle East.
He retired as a four-star general after 41 years in the military. Once confirmed, Austin would be the first African American to become secretary of defense.
In the private sector, Austin has served on the boards of defense contractor Raytheon and steelmaker Nucor, which is a supplier to two major Pentagon contractors, Oshkosh Defense and Huntington Ingalls.
Rep. Peter Meijer, a first-year Republican, was among those who voted against the waiver, saying it was important to maintain civilian control over the military.
“We cannot let the exception become the rule at the end of the day,” Meijer said, noting that former secretary Mattis had also demanded a lifting of the civil rule.
Today I voted ‘no’ to the waiver allowing the appointment of General Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) to bypass the requirement of the National Security Act of 1947 that Retired officers must be retired for at least 7 years prior to appointment to SECDEF. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/hW3OLFXe8d
– Rep. Peter Meijer (@RepMeijer) January 21, 2021
The Senate is moving quickly to confirm Austin and several of Biden’s cabinet candidates, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.
“With the cooperation of our fellow Republicans, we can secure confirmation from the Secretaries of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Treasury without too much delay,” said Schumer.
The Senate voted 84-16 Wednesday to confirm former CIA deputy director Avril Haines as the first woman to be director of national intelligence, the U.S. government’s most prominent spy post.
The nominations of Secretary of State-designate Anthony Blinken and Treasury Secretary candidate Janet Yellen are pending.
Biden’s appointment of Alejandro Mayorkas as homeland security secretary drew opposition from some Republicans, including Senator Josh Hawley, who objected to a quick confirmation for Mayorkas.