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Austin confirmed as first Black defense secretary

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Austin arrived on the Pentagon simply after midday on Friday and was sworn in. An official swearing-in will happen subsequent week on the White Home.

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The brand new Protection secretary’s first day is tightly scheduled, beginning with conferences with Deputy Secretary David Norquist — one of many few holdovers from the final administration who stuffed in as appearing secretary whereas Austin awaited affirmation — and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

Austin can be set to chair a coronavirus briefing with Pentagon leaders and converse to NATO Secretary Common Jens Stoltenberg.

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“It’s an honor and a privilege to function our nation’s twenty eighth Secretary of Protection, and I’m particularly proud to be the primary African American to carry the place,” Austin wrote on Twitter upon being confirmed. “Let’s get to work.”

The affirmation vote got here only a day after the Home and Senate approved a waiver to permit Austin to serve. Austin, who retired from the army in 2016, falls wanting the authorized requirement that army officers be out of uniform for seven years to function Protection secretary.

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Austin, a former commander of U.S. forces within the Center East, is the second four-star normal to be granted the waiver in 4 years. Congress additionally handed an exception for former President Donald Trump’s first Pentagon chief, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis.

Regardless of the trailblazing nature of Austin’s nomination and his prolonged document, lawmakers in each events had been involved that putting in one other normal atop the Pentagon would upend already out-of-whack civil-military relations. Even some supporters of Trump and Mattis, equivalent to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton or Arkansas, argued that supporting Mattis in 2017 was a mistake and Congress ought to by no means grant the waiver once more.

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Whereas 27 senators voted towards the waiver a day earlier, solely two senators opposed Austin’s affirmation: Republicans Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah.

Austin doubled down on civilian control of the military at a Senate Armed Companies affirmation listening to Tuesday. Most senators had been glad by Austin’s commitments to bolster civilian management of the army and empower senior civilians on the Pentagon moderately than encompass himself with former army brass.

“Mr. Austin has a storied profession within the Military, however these days are behind him,” Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer stated forward of Friday’s vote.

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“He should as soon as once more show to the world that the U.S. army will all the time help out buddies, deter our adversaries and, if obligatory, defeat them,” Schumer stated. “Lloyd Austin is the appropriate individual for the job.”

The outgoing Republican chair of the Senate Armed Companies Committee, Jim Inhofe, argued Austin is the appropriate choose to helm the Pentagon because the army redirects its focus towards matching positive factors by China and Russia.

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“We’re in probably the most threatened occasions that now we have been in,” Inhofe stated. “And I am unable to consider a greater individual to take the helm than Gen. Austin to supply that management.”

Regardless of supporting Austin, Minority Chief Mitch McConnell cautioned senators to “pause and mirror” on the truth that Congress has exempted two retired generals from federal regulation to guide he Pentagon initially of consecutive administrations.

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“We’ll examine steps that Congress can take to assist restore steadiness over on the Pentagon,” McConnell stated. “The regulation that we hold waiving truly exists for good cause. Civilian management of the army is a basic precept of our republic.”

In his first days on the job, Austin will doubtless oversee the dismantling of Trump’s restrictive transgender troop coverage. Biden has pledged to roll again Trump’s ban and return to the Obama-era coverage that permits transgender folks to serve overtly. Austin testified to senators that he helps overturning the ban.

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He additionally pledged to rapidly overview the Pentagon’s efforts to answer the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the division is doing all it will probably to assist distribute vaccines and vaccinate troops.

He may also take over a Pentagon that’s grappling with problems with systemic racism and extremism within the ranks after months of racial unrest within the nation and a lethal riot this month on the U.S. Capitol wherein some former army members took half.

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“The job of the Division of Protection is to maintain America secure from our enemies,” Austin testified on Tuesday. “However we will’t do this if a few of these enemies lie inside our personal ranks.”

It’s the historic nature of the selection that additionally underscores one among Austin’s main challenges: making the army extra various, notably on the increased ranks.

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“If African People are gonna achieve success, now we have to work tougher, keep longer and get in earlier. It’s all the time been that manner,” stated Rep. Anthony Brown, a former Military officer. “We’ve got to clear that bar with a complete lot extra room to spare than different folks. Austin is clearing that bar.”

“The second he walks via the door will energize the division,” he added.

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But it surely received’t be that straightforward to make the army extra consultant, warned retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Employees and chief of naval operations.

“He has acquired to push via this, maintain the companies’ toes to the fireplace on this concern, as a result of it is a precedence for the nation. And now’s the time,” he stated in an interview.

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But bringing extra equality to the army goes properly past selling extra Black officers, he stated.

“My greatest remorse once I was a CNO and chairman is I could not do a lot on the Latinx stuff in any respect,” Mullen stated. “I used to be pushing ladies and minorities and the Latinx piece of it, , there was no place to push. I did not have a pool and that needs to be created.”

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Austin is the primary Pentagon nominee to be confirmed on this administration.

Biden has additionally nominated Kathleen Hicks to be Austin’s deputy and Colin Kahl to be Pentagon coverage chief, however neither has acquired affirmation hearings but.

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Lara Seligman and Nolan McCaskill contributed to this report.

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