This Inauguration Day is one with many firsts. Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin is President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for Defense secretary, pending waiver of the 1947 law requiring Defense secretaries to be out of uniform for at least seven years. While Austin’s confirmation proceeded, waiver discussions are slated to begin Thursday – after Inauguration Day.
At his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Austin sought to alleviate concerns over his recent retirement from the military, saying, “Let me say at the outset that I understand and respect the reservations 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 demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.”
Previous Secretary of Defense James Mattis faced a fairly easy confirmation to the Senate after his own waiver, and became the second retired military officer after George Marshall to lead the DoD. Austin faced questions about his commitment to civilian control of the military, and pledged he would uphold the principle as secretary of defense.
Pledges and Priorities
With all of the concerns following the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, and continued reports of Guardsmen and Reservists who participated, Austin faced questions about extremism within the ranks.
“We woke up one day and discovered that we had extremist elements in our ranks, and they did bad things that we certainly held them accountable for,” he said. “But we discovered that the signs for that activity were there all along. We just didn’t know what to look for or what to pay attention to. But we learned from that.”
Austin was also questioned about America’s ongoing tensions abroad. He confirmed that China is still a focus. However, he added that “In accordance with what the president-elect wants to see, I think we want to see an Afghanistan in the future that does not present a threat to America. So a focus on some counterterrorism issues, I think in the future … would be helpful.”
Austin’s testimony was just one of four hearings yesterday for the Biden Administration’s new national security team. Office of the Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines briefed the Intelligence Committee, Department of Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas briefed the Homeland Security Committee, and State Department nominee Antony Blinken briefed the Foreign Relations Committee. As all of the hearings and waiver discussions take place this week, security around the nation’s capital remains high and traffic feels similar to pre-pandemic days.