A former army general with personal ties to Biden takes over the Department of Defense, the US military.
The US Senate has confirmed President Joe Biden’s candidate for Secretary of Defense, retired Army General Lloyd Austin, making him the first African-American to occupy the top spot in the Pentagon.
Austin garnered broad support from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, winning confirmation by a 93-2 vote.
“General Austin is an exceptionally skilled leader with a long and distinguished career in the United States military,” said Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Commission.
Austin will take over the US Department of Defense “at a time when US strategic priorities have shifted to increasingly focus on near-peer competition with China and Russia,” Reed said.
Congress moved quickly to clear the way for General Austin’s confirmation. US law reserves the post of secretary of defense for civilians or those retired from the military 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.
The House of Representatives on Thursday voted 326-78 to provide the required legal waiver. The Senate approved derogation 69-27.
Austin is replacing former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, who was the fourth official in office since former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in 2018 in a dispute with former President Donald Trump.
“The president should have real leeway to fulfill his mandates with qualified people of his choice,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, calling Austin a “clear patriot” with an “impressive career”.
Austin, 67, came from 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.
Austin and Biden had worked closely on the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2010-2011 and Biden’s late son Beau Biden had served on Austin staff in Baghdad. The two have become close friends.
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.
The Senate, meanwhile, is moving quickly to confirm a number of candidates for Biden’s cabinet.
The Senate Finance Committee on Friday approved the appointment of Janet Yellen as Secretary of the Treasury. She would be the first woman to hold the post and would have to get full Senate confirmation.
Secretary of State-designate Anthony Blinken is also expected to receive confirmation from the Senate next week.
The Senate voted 84-16 Wednesday to confirm former CIA deputy director Avril Haines as the first woman to be the director of national intelligence, the most prominent spy post in the United States.
Biden’s appointment of Alejandro Mayorkas as homeland security secretary has slowed due to opposition from some Republicans over issues of border policy and immigration enforcement.
Five committee hearings for the candidates for the United Nations ambassador and the secretaries of trade, energy, veterans and housing are scheduled for next week.