Both the House and Senate on Thursday voted to approve a waiver for retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, President Biden’s pick to serve as secretary of defense.
Mr. Austin is expected to make history as the first Black defense secretary. His nomination needs to be approved by the Senate, which could vote on his nomination as early as Thursday evening.
“Today the House sent a clear message: Secretary-designate Austin is an extremely qualified leader who should be swiftly confirmed by the Senate and assume the role of secretary of defense,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said in a statement.
“In his conversations with me and many other members of the House, Secretary-designate Austin has proven that he is a capable leader, who is committed to the civilian control of our military and is ready to lead the Department of Defense as soon as he is confirmed,” the Washington Democrat continued. “I remain optimistic that the Senate will act expeditiously to complete Secretary-designate Austin’s historic confirmation.”
Mr. Austin also received enough votes in the Senate on Thursday to be granted a waiver on the seven-year cooling off period before retired general officers can serve as Secretary of Defense.
He needed 60 votes to make it through the Senate and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota pushed him over the limit.
“We need someone with experience who can step in on day one and ensure our service members are protected as they guard our interests at home and abroad,” she said in a statement following a meeting with him earlier this month. “I am confident he will be able to lead our armed forces during a time of crisis across the globe.”
The four-star general requires the congressional waiver due to a rule that active-duty service members must wait seven years before serving in the top civilian post. Former President Trump’s first defense secretary, Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, also required a waiver that was granted by Congress.
A former head of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East, Mr. Austin retired in 2016 after 40 years of service.
During his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Mr. Austin told the panel, “I understand and respect the reservations that some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense.”
“The safety and security of our democracy demand competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” he said.
• Mike Glenn contributed to this report.