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General Lloyd Austin would be the first African-American Secretary of Defense in U.S. History. Photo: AFP

‘A trailblazer,’ General Lloyd Austin is one Senate vote away from being the first Black man to lead the Pentagon

Austin retired from the armed forces in 2016 and required a waiver to be allowed to hold the position in Biden’s cabinet.

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The Biden-Harris cabinet is one Senate vote away from adding a new member, further contributing to its diversity. 

On Thursday Jan. 21, the House approved a waiver permitting retired General Lloyd Austin to serve as secretary of defense.

Austin needed the waiver due to a law that requires defense secretaries to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job. Austin retired in 2016.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Austin’s waiver by voice vote. 

The two top-ranking senators on the committee, Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, and Republican Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, both supported his nomination. 

Ahead of the vote, Austin was reaching out to top House and Senate lawmakers who would need to agree to pass the legislation to grant the waiver. 

“After this week’s nomination hearing, I am very confident that Lloyd Austin will be a strong capable civilian leader for the Pentagon at this critical time,” Inhofe remarked. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Austin will make history as the nation’s first African American Pentagon chief, and be the third defense secretary to require a waiver from Congress to assume the post. 

Retired Gen. of the Army George Marshall, nominated by President Truman in 1950, and retired Marine Gem. Jim Mattis, President Trump’s first defense secretary, are the only other secretaries to receive waivers. 

To complete his confirmation, Austin must overcome objections that some lawmakers have brought up concerning a recently retired general assuming the top civilian post at the Pentagon. 

He addressed the concerns directly at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Jan. 19. 

“If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security, and I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended,” Austin said. 

Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the Committee, said on Monday Jan. 18, that he sent a letter to House Democrats requesting that they vote in favor of a nomination waiver. 

He took to Twitter to offer more support. 

“I have no doubt that civilian control of the military will be completely upheld by Secretary-designate Austin when he is our Secretary of Defense,” he wrote.

Biden showed his support for Austin in an opinion editorial piece he penned for The Atlantic last month. 

The 46th President described him as a trailblazer. 

“Austin’s many strengths and intimate knowledge of the Department of Defense and our government are uniquely matched to the challenges we face,” he wrote. “He is the person we need in this moment.”

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