On Friday, the Senate confirmed the nomination of retired General Lloyd Austin as the first black Secretary of Defense. Austin, nominated by President Joe Biden to head the defense department, would be the first African American to achieve this.
A law requiring that a defense secretary should wait seven years after active-duty service before clinching the role had proved a stumbling block to Austin’s nomination, who only retired in 2016. However, he was granted a waiver by the House on Thursday, which was promptly followed by the approval of the Senate.
The approval by the House paved the way for the Senate’s confirmation. The vote was 93-2. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) were the only two opposing votes.
Lee offered an explanation for his vote. Speaking through a spokesperson, Conn Carroll, Lee said he believed it is in the best interest of the military to maintain the seven-year gap rule. However, Lee had voted positively to grant the waiver for General James Mattis, the then-candidate of President Donald Trump, four years ago.
The House does not vote on cabinet nomination by a president. Notwithstanding, the House did vote, which ended in a 326-78 vote for Austin.
The confirmation of Austin is a chance for Biden to have in place people he had identified could help his administration perform optimally. It also offers the Democrats the opportunity to race to confirm Biden’s cabinet members and other key officials of the new administration. Only on Wednesday, the Senate had approved the nomination of Avril Haines as director of national intelligence.
In the course of the confirmation hearing, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had pointed out the fact that Congress has had to grant waivers to defense secretaries of both the Trump and Biden administrations.
McConnell noted that the seven-year requirement law actually existed for a reason and that Congress should be careful how it granted waivers around it, considering the fact that the guiding principle of America’s democracy rests in civilian control of the military. He also stated that being a former high-ranking military officer should not be an eligibility criterion for future defense secretaries.
Austin had had to face opposition from lawmakers who were skeptical about allowing a military officer who was only recently retired to head the defense department. But Austin assuaged those fears when he assured the Senate committee of his desire to uphold civilian control of the top pentagon post while protecting the integrity of the nation’s armed forces.