The U.S. Senate has confirmed Joe Biden’s nominee, Lloyd Austin, to serve as defense minister, 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 the Austin nomination.
Austin tweeted that it was an “honor and privilege” to serve as Secretary of Defense, adding that he was “especially proud” to be the first African-American to hold the position.
Austin, 67, will watch the 1.3 million active men and women who make up the national army. He is the second of Biden’s cabinet nominees to be confirmed after Avril Haynes, Director of National Intelligence, was confirmed Wednesday and sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday.
“In my opinion, there is no doubt that he is the right person for the job at the right time, heading the Department of Defense at this point in our nation’s history,” Biden said when he last announced his Austin nomination for the role of the month. He called Austin “the definition of duty, honor and state” and a leader “feared by our opponents, known and respected by our allies.”
Biden said Austin would help renew America’s relations with allies torn by the Trump administration and guide the defense department to counter threats ranging from potential future pandemics to climate emergencies to refugee crises.
Austin’s confirmation comes a day after the House and Senate refused to allow him to be confirmed, as he retired from the military less than seven years ago. Retired Marine General Jim Mathis also received such a refusal to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense in 2017.
During Matisse’s confirmation hearing, many Democrats spoke of the need for civilian control of the military, including four current members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who opposed the waiver. Among them was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a prominent Democrat who also opposed Austin’s refusal.
Austin sought to allay his concerns about his recent service by promising to approach the role of “civilian leader” with “deep appreciation and respect for the overwhelming wisdom of civilian control of our military.”
The Senate Finance Committee also unanimously backed Janet Yellen’s nomination as secretary of the treasury on Friday morning, setting a final vote for confirmation. Republican Sen. John Cornin said Yellen, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, is likely to be confirmed later in the day.