The Senate voted 93-2 on Friday to confirm retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the sole “no” votes.
Why it matters: Austin is the first Black American to lead the Pentagon and President Biden’s second Cabinet nominee to be confirmed.
- Avril Haines was confirmed as director of national intelligence on Wednesday, making her the first woman to serve as head of the U.S. intelligence community.
- Biden has pledged to make his Cabinet the most diverse in U.S. history.
The big picture: Austin was the first Black general to command a theater of war in Iraq, first to serve as the commander of U.S. Central Command, and first to hold the title of vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army.
- During his confirmation hearing, Austin pledged to address white supremacy and extremism within the military, saying he would “rid our ranks of racists” and ensure that military leaders understand that any sort of extremist behavior is unacceptable.
- He also testified that he plans to ensure the Pentagon does “everything we can” to assist in vaccine distribution and guarantee that troops get inoculated, per AP.
Between the lines: Both chambers of Congress voted Thursday to grant Austin a waiver from a law that requires officers to be out of the military for seven years before taking on the job, as the four-star general only retired in 2016.
- Austin is the third defense secretary to require a waiver from Congress to serve, NPR reports, following Gen. George Marshall, nominated in 1950 by President Harry Truman, and Gen. Jim Mattis, President Trump’s first defense secretary.
- Amid bipartisan concerns over abandoning the tradition of civilian control of the Pentagon for a second consecutive administration, Austin acknowledged in his confirmation hearing that being a Cabinet secretary “requires a different perspective and unique duties from a career in uniform.”
Go deeper: Biden finalizes full slate of Cabinet secretaries