Senate Confirms Austin in Historic Vote, Putting in First Black Protection Secretary

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd J. Austin III as protection secretary, filling a crucial nationwide safety place in President Biden’s cupboard and elevating the primary Black American within the nation’s historical past to steer the Pentagon.

The 93-to-2 vote got here a day after Congress swiftly moved to grant Mr. Austin, a retired four-star Military normal, a particular waiver to carry the submit, which is required for any protection secretary who has been out of active-duty army service for fewer than seven years. It mirrored a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill that it was pressing for Mr. Biden to have his Pentagon choose put in, a step usually taken on a brand new president’s first day.

“It’s a rare, historic second,” stated Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and the incoming chairman of the Armed Companies Committee. “A good portion of our armed forces at the moment are African-Individuals or Latinos, and now they will see themselves on the very high of the Division of Protection, which makes actual the notion of alternative.”

Mr. Austin, 67, is the one African-American to have led the US Central Command, the army’s marquee fight command, with accountability for Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. He retired in 2016 after 41 years within the army, and is extensively revered throughout the Military.

In taking the helm on the Pentagon, Mr. Austin will face quite a few world and home threats directly, together with an more and more muscular China, and aggressive Russia, pandemics and a local weather disaster, all at a time of probably shrinking assets. He has vowed to sort out the persistent issues of sexual assault and political extremism within the ranks that so many secretaries earlier than him denounced however did little to quell. Civilian dominance of the army, a political cornerstone of the division since its inception, was strained through the Trump administration with a commander in chief who sought to politicize its function till the very finish of his time period.

Shortly after he was confirmed, Mr. Austin arrived on the Pentagon to satisfy with senior army officers, a Protection Division spokesman stated. He’ll obtain a briefing on the division’s actions aimed toward combating the coronavirus pandemic and maintain a name with Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary normal of the North Atlantic Treaty Group, in a while Friday, the spokesman stated.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to function our nation’s twenty eighth Secretary of Protection, and I’m particularly proud to be the primary African American to carry the place,” Mr. Austin wrote on Twitter. “Let’s get to work.”

Lawmakers in each events initially had been uneasy on the prospect of granting Mr. Austin an exception to the statutory bar towards just lately retired army personnel serving as Pentagon chiefs, a legislation meant to keep up civilian management of the army. They’d already achieved so 4 years in the past for Jim Mattis, President Donald J. Trump’s first protection secretary and a retired four-star Marine officer, and lots of had vowed then not to take action once more.

However dealing with intense strain from officers from Mr. Biden’s transition workforce and high Democrats, and after receiving assurances from Mr. Austin that he was dedicated to the ideas of civilian management, the vast majority of lawmakers brushed apart their issues and threw their assist behind a barrier-shattering nominee.

Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, was amongst these lobbying his colleagues to make the exception. He stated doing so was worthwhile as a result of Mr. Biden had too few incoming senior officers with prior army service.

“I feel that argument persuaded a few of my colleagues,” stated Mr. Sullivan, who shares a army historical past with Mr. Austin and launched the retired normal at his affirmation listening to.

“The one who bought Lloyd Austin confirmed,” Mr. Sullivan stated, “was Lloyd Austin.”

Two Republicans, Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri, voted towards the affirmation. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican chief, supported him, however added a word of warning in remarks from the Senate ground.

“The Senate ought to pause and replicate on the truth that we can have begun two consecutive presidential administrations by issuing a waiver to a four-star normal and former Centcom commander to steer the Pentagon,” Mr. McConnell stated.

The vote was the primary time for the reason that elder President George Bush that an incoming president has not had a protection secretary put in on the Pentagon on the primary day, a distinction that Democratic leaders had been aware of as they rushed to verify Mr. Austin. The Senate on Wednesday confirmed one other key nationwide safety official, Avril D. Haines, as director of nationwide intelligence, and Democrats hoped to verify Antony Blinken as secretary of state as early as Friday afternoon.

Regardless that 43 p.c of the 1.3 million women and men on lively responsibility in the US are individuals of coloration, the leaders on the high of the army’s chain of command have remained remarkably white and male. When President Barack Obama chosen Mr. Austin to steer Central Command, he turned one of many highest-ranked Black males within the army, second solely to Colin L. Powell, who had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Workers.

Consultant Anthony G. Brown, Democrat of Maryland and a Black retired colonel within the Military Reserve, famous that the place of secretary of protection was created in 1947 — simply 9 months earlier than President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces.

“Secretary Austin’s affirmation is a historic first and symbolizes the fruits of the almost 75-year march towards real integration of the division,” Mr. Brown stated. “He’s effectively positioned to attract upon his experiences as a seasoned army commander, revered chief and as a Black man who grew up amid segregation to drive progress ahead as our subsequent secretary of protection.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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