United States’ President-elect Joe Biden plans to tap retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III to be secretary of defence, according to people familiar with the decision.
Austin would be the first Black US Defence secretary in the United States. He previously served as the first Black chief of U.S. Central Command from 2013 to 2016.
Austin, 67, rose to become a four-star general in the Army and retired in 2016 as the chief of U.S. Central Command, a role from which he oversaw U.S. military operations across the Middle East for three years. His tenure there included the rise of the Islamic State, which began seizing cities in Iraq in 2014, and the U.S.-led military intervention to stop it.
Biden has been under pressure to nominate a Black defence secretary, with Black leaders arguing he was falling short on diversity in his Cabinet as top positions filled up. Two other of the so-called “Big Four” Cabinet heads Biden has chosen are white: Antony Blinken as secretary of State and Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary.
With the Defence secretary chosen, only the attorney general Cabinet position remains open among the Big Four.
Austin’s selection will prompt a congressional debate over whether enough lawmakers would support a waiver from a law that mandates any service member must be out of uniform for at least seven years before being eligible to serve as defense secretary. The law is meant to ensure civilian control of the military.
The Trump administration obtained a similar waiver for former defense secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, but it came at a time when many Republicans had taken themselves out of the running for the job by openly criticizing President Trump when he was a presidential candidate.