Biden officially announced Austin as his pick for Defense Secretary on Wednesday, calling the former general “the right person for this job…at this moment in our nation’s history.”
Austin, a four-star general, would be “the first African-American at the helm of the Defense Department in well over 200 years,” Biden continued. While it’s true Austin would be the first black defense secretary, there was no Defense Department 200 years ago.
Austin, who retired from the military in 2016, will require a waiver from Congress in order to take the role, which normally requires seven years outside the armed forces. The former general also sits on the board of US defense contractor Raytheon, a conflict of interest that has raised more than a few eyebrows.
Biden acknowledged Austin would require a waiver, but insisted he would not ask Congress to make an exception for the candidate “if this time in our history did not call for it.” The Democrat said he had “no doubt” that Austin would “honor and respect…the principle of civilian leadership over military matters.”
Biden called for Austin to be confirmed “swiftly” in order to “rebuild America’s alliances” and “to help bring to an end the forever wars,” ensuring “the use of force is the last tool in our toolbox…to protect our national security, not the first.” Austin’s “deep understanding of the Pentagon” would help “reform” the Defense Department, he continued.
Former Donald Trump administration defense secretary James Mattis also required a waiver in order to serve in the current administration. His confirmation passed both houses of Congress easily, though a small faction of Democrats refused to support it.
At least three Democrats, including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, have come forward to say they will not support a waiver to confirm Austin.
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