- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2021

The Senate Friday overwhelmingly approved former Gen. Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense, giving President Biden a key member for his national security team. The final vote was 93-2.

The 41-year Army veteran, a former head of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East, becomes the nation’s first Black defense secretary. He had been a key military adviser to Mr. Biden when he was vice president in the Obama administration.

Just two Republicans ended up voting against the nominee: Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Lawmakers of both parties praised the nominee, but his selection sparked some debate over his long military service. Gen. Austin was required to get a waiver from both the House and Senate from a law barring former members of the military from serving as the civilian chief of the armed forces for seven years after they retire.

The seven-year delay was put in place to emphasize civilian control of the military and uphold the idea that senior military officers should be strictly nonpolitical in carrying out their jobs.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, had high praise for Gen. Austin but noted on the floor before the vote that “the law we keep waiving exists for a reason.”

“Civilian control of the military is a fundamental principle of our republic,” Mr. McConnell said. “We emphatically do not want high-ranking military service to become a tacit prerequisite for the civilian leadership post atop the Department of Defense.”

Many in Congress expressed unease about granting the waiver just four years after approving one for former Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, President Trump’s first defense secretary. The only previous waiver had been given to Gen. George Marshall back in the Truman administration.

The Senate approved the exemption Thursday on a 69-27 vote just moments after the House approved the waiver on a 326-78 vote. The waiver holds the distinction of being the first bill signed into law by the new president.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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