Both chambers of Congress on Thursday approved a waiver to permit retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as secretary of Defense in the Biden administration.
Austin now faces a final confirmation vote from the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced yesterday that the Senate will vote to confirm Austin this morning.
Austin, who would be the first Black man to run the department, had to be granted a waiver from a law requiring a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job. The House passed the waiver Thursday afternoon, followed by Senate approval of the measure.
Ahead of the vote, Austin, who retired in 2016, had been reaching out to top House and Senate lawmakers who would need to agree to pass legislation to grant the waiver, something approved only twice before in history, including for James Mattis to run President Trump’s Pentagon in 2017.
President Joe Biden’s pick for defense secretary must, in effect, win two votes: one from both chambers of Congress to grant the waiver and another from the Senate to confirm him for the position, and Thursday’s votes to green-light the waiver marked the first step in that process.
To win confirmation, Austin must overcome objections from some lawmakers to allowing a recently retired general to assume the top civilian post at the Pentagon.
He addressed those concerns directly at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, saying, “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.”