Senate confirms Lloyd Austin as America’s first Black secretary of Defense

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Gen. Lloyd Austin, nominee to be Defense secretary, attends the inauguration before Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Lloyd Austin as the next Pentagon chief Friday, making him the nation’s first Black Defense secretary.

The Senate voted 93 to 2 to confirm Austin.

Austin’s confirmation follows Wednesday’s Senate confirmation of Avril Haines, who became the first woman to the lead nation’s 18 intelligence agencies as the director of national intelligence.

In back-to-back votes Thursday, the House and Senate passed legislation granting Austin, a retired four-star Army general, a waiver to lead the Pentagon. The Senate approved Austin’s waiver by a vote of 69-27 and the House approved the waiver by a vote of 326 to 78.

Under the National Security Act of 1947, Congress has prohibited any individual from serving as secretary of Defense within seven years of active-duty service. Austin left the Army in 2016 and therefore required a special congressional waiver in order to bypass the seven-year rule.

Former President Donald Trump’s first Defense secretary, James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, also needed the same waiver from Congress.

Before becoming the 28th secretary of Defense, Austin served as a board member at defense giant Raytheon. Trump’s former Pentagon chiefs Mattis, Mark Esper and acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan also had ties to defense titans General Dynamics, Raytheon and Boeing.

The 1975 graduate of West Point would be the first Black leader of the Pentagon, breaking one of the more enduring barriers in the U.S. government.

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