The Senate on Friday confirmed Lloyd Austin as the Pentagon’s first black defense secretary in a bipartisan 93-2 vote.
Only two Republicans, voted no — Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Mike Lee (UT). Those not voting included Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC); Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV); Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS); Jerry Moran (R-KS); and Thom Tillis (R-NC).
There was more opposition to Austin’s nomination in the House, but only the Senate has the job of confirming senior-level presidential appointees.
The relatively light pushback against Biden’s nominees so far from Senate Republicans shows their willingness to work with the Biden administration.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday on CNN that he was voting in favor of Austin because “presidents should get real latitude in filling terms with qualified, mainstream people of their choosing.”
Austin’s Senate confirmation hearing was uneventful. Democrat senators pressed him to root out white supremacists and extremists from the military — which Austin said he vowed he would do, while Republican senators pressed him on being firm against China.
Austin tweeted shortly after he was confirmed:
It’s an honor and a privilege to serve as our country’s 28th Secretary of Defense, and I’m especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position. Let’s get to work. pic.twitter.com/qPAzVRxz9L
— Lloyd Austin (@LloydAustin) January 22, 2021
Austin immediately began work at the Pentagon on Friday.
Shortly thereafter, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement:
President Biden called Secretary Austin this afternoon, shortly after his arrival at the Pentagon. The President congratulated the Secretary on his swift confirmation and thanked the Secretary for agreeing to serve the country again. Secretary Austin expressed his gratitude to the President for his trust and confidence and for his support during the confirmation process.
Austin, 67, is a retired United States Army general who last served as former commander of U.S. Central Command during the Obama administration.
After leaving the military, he sat on the board of defense contractor Raytheon Technologies. His ties to Raytheon had raised concerns, mostly among Democrats.
What also raised concerns — among both Democrats and Republicans — was his military service only ending in 2016. Current law requires a defense secretary to be out of uniform for at least seven years, in order to preserve the principle of civilian control of the military.
Both houses of Congress had to pass a waiver for Austin to allow him to serve, which they did on Thursday.
The Senate passed a waiver on a 69-27 vote. Fourteen Senate Democrats voted against a waiver for Austin, and 13 Senate Republicans voted against the waiver, as Breitbart News reported Thursday.
More Democrats had voted against a waiver for former President Donald Trump’s first defense secretary Jim Mattis in 2017. Sixteen Democrats and one Independent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), voted against a waiver then, while all Republicans voted for a waiver, except for two not voting.
Sixty-three House Republicans voted against granting Austin a waiver, including those who went on the record to oppose his nomination. The Republican Study Committee, the House conservative caucus, had laid out in a lengthy memo its reasons for opposing Austin’s nomination.
— Kristina Wong 🇺🇸 (@kristina_wong) January 21, 2021
However, the waiver passed in the House on a largely bipartisan 326-78 vote, with 63 House Republicans voting no. Democrats had put up far more opposition to a waiver for Mattis during the Trump administration, with 150 Democrats voting no.