The US Senate has confirmed Joe Biden’s nominee, Lloyd Austin, to serve as secretary of defense, making the retired army general the first African American to lead the Pentagon.
The final vote was 93 to 2, with only two Senate Republicans – Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri – opposing Austin’s nomination.
Austin said in a tweet that it was “an honor and a privilege” to serve as defense secretary, adding that he was “especially proud” to be the first African American to hold the position.
Austin, 67, will oversee the 1.3 million active duty men and women who make up the nation’s military. He is the second of Biden’s cabinet nominees to be confirmed, after Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, was confirmed on Wednesday and sworn in by Vice-President Kamala Harris on Thursday.
“In my judgment, there is no question that he is the right person for this job at the right moment, leading the Department of Defense at this moment in our nation’s history,” Biden said as he announced his nomination of Austin for the role last month. He called Austin the “definition of duty, honor and country” and a leader “feared by our adversaries, known and respected by our allies”.
Biden said Austin would help renew America’s relationship with allies, frayed by the Trump administration, and orient the defense department to confront threats ranging from potential future pandemics to the climate emergency to refugee crises.
Austin’s confirmation comes one day after the House and the Senate passed a waiver to allow him to be confirmed, as he retired from the military less than seven years ago. Retired marine general Jim Mattis was also granted such a waiver to become Donald Trump’s defense secretary in 2017.
During Mattis’s confirmation hearing, many Democrats spoke about the need for civilian control of the military, including four current members of the Senate armed services committee who opposed granting the waiver. Among them was the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, a prominent Democrat, who also opposed a waiver for Austin.
Austin has sought to allay concerns over his recent service, vowing to approach the role as a “civilian leader” with “deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military”.
The Senate finance committee also unanimously supported the nomination of Janet Yellen for treasury secretary on Friday morning, setting up a final confirmation vote. Republican senator John Cornyn said Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, would likely be confirmed later in the day.