Lloyd Austin wins Senate backing, becomes first Black Pentagon chief

The U.S. Senate on Friday confirmed overwhelming President Joe Biden’s nominee, retired Army general Lloyd Austin, to serve as Secretary of Defense, making him the first black American in the role.

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

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 future 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 U.S. military,” Reed said before the vote.

“We are in the most threatened time we are in,” said Senator James Inhofe, the outgoing Republican chairman of the Armed Services Panel, when he also called for support for the nominee.

Stability after Trump worries

On Thursday, members of Congress overwhelmingly approved an exemption that would allow Austin to lead the Pentagon even though he had not cleared the necessary seven-year waiting period since leaving uniformed service – a law aimed at enforcing civilian control over the armed forces.

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

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Biden is expected to gain approval for others in his national security law in the next few days, including Antony Blinken as foreign minister.

The incoming president is looking for Austin to restore stability on top of the Pentagon, which went through two Senate Secretary of Defense and four who held office on a temporary basis during the Trump administration.

( Jowharwith REUTERS, AP)