Lloyd Austin wins Senate backing, becomes first Black Pentagon chief

The US Senate on Friday overwhelmingly confirmed President Joe Biden's nominee, retired Army General Lloyd Austin, to serve as defence secretary, making him the first Black American in the role.

Retired US Army General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 19, 2021.
Retired US Army General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 19, 2021. © AFP pool

Senators voted 93 to 2 to confirm Austin in the role, far more than the simple majority required.

Lawmakers from both parties said they were pleased that Austin would be installed to lead the Pentagon just two days after Biden was sworn in as president on Wednesday.

Senator Jack Reed, the incoming Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, noted the wide range of challenges facing the country – including the coronavirus pandemic and competition with China and Russia.

"General Austin is an exceptionally qualified leader with a long and distinguished career in the US military," Reed said before the vote.

"We're in the most threatened time that we're in," said Senator James Inhofe, the outgoing Republican chairman of the armed services panel, as he also urged support for the nominee.

Stability after Trump turmoil

Members of Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a waiver that allowed Austin to lead the Pentagon even though he had not cleared the required seven-year waiting period since leaving the uniformed services – a law intended to enforce civilian control of the armed forces.

Austin is Biden's second cabinet nominee to win confirmation, after Avril Haines was confirmed on Wednesday as the first woman to serve as director of national intelligence.

>> Who are the nominees for US President Biden's cabinet?

Biden is expected to win approval for others on his national security team in coming days, including Antony Blinken as secretary of state.

The incoming president is looking for Austin to restore stability atop the Pentagon, which went through two Senate-confirmed defence secretaries and four who held the post on an interim basis during the Trump administration.




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