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National Security & Defense

Congress Approves Waiver for Lloyd Austin to Serve as Defense Secretary

Retired General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., January 19, 2021. Jim (Lo Scalzo/Reuters)

Congress on Thursday approved a waiver for Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, to serve as President Biden’s Defense Secretary, clearing the way for his Senate confirmation to the post.

The House voted 326-to-78 Thursday afternoon to grant the waiver, which allows Austin to serve as the Pentagon’s civilian leader despite being retired from active-duty military service for less than the seven years required by law. The Senate approved the move 69-to-27.

If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first black American to head the Pentagon.

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Austin’s nomination as well as the waiver in a voice vote earlier on Thursday. Committee Chairman Senator Jack Reed stressed the urgency of confirming a secretary of defense.

“Every member of this committee cares deeply about our national defense, and that is reflected in this bipartisan action to advance this effort. Given the unique challenges we face, it is imperative to have a confirmed secretary of defense in place as soon as possible,” Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said.

Austin retired from active duty in 2016. Before retiring he led the U.S. Central Command, overseeing all military operations in the Middle East.

“I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” Austin told the Armed Services Committee during a hearing Tuesday, referencing President Trump’s nomination of Jim Mattis when he had been retired from active service for only four years. “The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.”

“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,” he said.

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