WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday overwhelmingly voted to confirm the retirement of the first black Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army General who first had to approve Congress to resign to take office.
Lawmakers voted 93-2 in the last floor vote. Two Republicans, Sens., Missouri. Josh Hawley and Utah Mike Lee were the only ones to vote no.
President Joe Biden’s appointment of 67-year-old Austin has troubled some Democrats because his retirement from the military occurred less than seven years ago, and that’s the minimum amount of time a civilian has to wait for the Department of Defense to lead. Austin retired in 2016.
The House and Senate quickly approved Austin’s dismissal on Thursday. Only two other candidates received such resignations: George C. Marshall, in the Truman administration, and James Mattis, in the Trump administration.
Austin, who served in the military for more than four decades, was commander of U.S. Central Command under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2016 and led the U.S. military’s strategy in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.
Austin is the second Biden candidate since President’s inauguration on Wednesday to be confirmed. The Senate confirmed Avril Haines that day as director of national intelligence.
Testifying at the weekly confirmation hearing, Austin said the “most immediate” challenge facing the United States is the coronavirus epidemic. He said he was “fighting hard” to “rid our ranks of racists and extremists”. Austin also said it will overturn the Trump administration’s ban on transgender military service, which Trump first ordered by tweeting in 2017.
Biden wrote in a December essay for The Atlantic magazine that he and Austin were “jointly committed to empowering our diplomats and development experts to lead our foreign policy, using force only as a last resort”.
The Senate is expected to soon vote on the nomination of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The Senate Finance Committee unanimously announced Yellen’s appointment to the floor Friday morning with a 26-0 vote.
Dareh Gregorian consented.