Sullivan Introduces Defense Secretary Nominee Lloyd Austin

Senator Urges Colleagues to Support Austin’s Nomination

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), today was one of two speakers to introduce Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star Army general, at his confirmation hearing to serve as the next secretary of defense in the incoming Biden administration. The other speaker introducing Austin was Leon Panetta, who previously served as defense secretary and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. 

In his introductory remarks, Sullivan urged his Senate colleagues to approve a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947, which requires retired uniformed service members to wait seven years before being eligible to serve as defense secretary, and to support Austin’s nomination. Sullivan and Austin both served in the Middle East between 2005-2006 under retired Army General John Abizaid, then the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Austin was a two-star general. Sullivan was a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.


The last time we were together as senators, our Capitol was under siege. America’s authoritarian rivals abroad have been gloating about our disunity. Democracy brings chaos, they tell their people. Better to have a strong hand that keeps order. 

We live in an imperfect democracy, no doubt, and the American I am honored to introduce, Mr. Lloyd Austin, understands our imperfections more than many. But on closer inspection, the world’s dictators have little to celebrate. Congress went back to work on January 6th to count Electoral College votes. Tomorrow, there will be a transfer of power at the top of our government as there has been since our Republic’s founding.  

At some point, Chinese and Russian citizens will ask, “Why can’t we do that? Why don’t we have strong, resilient institutions that ensure the regular election of new leaders, and vest self-government in the people?” When these questions are asked, authoritarians like Xi Jinping and Putin won’t be gloating anymore, because they don’t have answers.

What does all of this have to do with Lloyd Austin? A lot.

Mr. Austin has been nominated to lead one of America’s most trusted institutions – the Department of Defense. Many of us have worked hard to rebuild our military, but we can all agree that there has been too much turmoil at the top. As its civilian leader, I am confident that Mr. Austin will bring steadiness, leadership, and respect to this indispensable institution. 

I got to know Mr. Austin in 2005 and 2006. Serving together in an Army-heavy combatant command conducting combat operations throughout the Middle East, we had what might be described today as an uneven power relationship.   

He was a two-star general, I was a major. He had spent decades on active duty, I was a reservist. He was a soldier, I was a Marine.

I was just one of hundreds of field-grade infantry officers, recalled to active duty, deployed in the region during a challenging time for our nation. But when I asked for his time, Mr. Austin gave it. When I had a problem, he listened. And when I asked for help on an important mission, he provided it. 

A critical hallmark of exceptional leadership, especially for organizations like the Pentagon, is not just how one treats superiors, but how one treats subordinates. What I saw was respect, integrity, and someone who gets things done in a difficult environment. 

It is clear to me that the core principles of Mr. Austin’s life have been duty, honor, country. That may sound quaint to some, but I think having individuals of impeccable character at the top of our government is more important than ever. 

Other than integrity, there is no singular requirement for the difficult job of secretary of defense. But as the former director of the joint staff and CENTCOM commander, Mr. Austin certainly has insights on critical issues, such as interagency budget battles, working with allies, and congressional oversight.

Mr. Austin is fully committed to the constitutional principle of civilian control of our military – something that those who serve in uniform typically understand and revere more than those who don’t.  In that regard, I thought some of the testimony from our recent hearing on this important topic was a bit simplistic, with discussions about so-called “military logic.” So let me play devil’s advocate.

The very nature of this confirmation hearing is evidence that civilian control of the military is not at risk in America. I believe the related, but opposite problem should be of more concern today – no military experience in the top ranks of our government. 

With the exception of Mr. Austin, no nominee on the incoming Biden national security team has ever served in uniform. With regard to the entire Biden cabinet, only one other nominee has any military experience at all. This is not wise.  

If confirmed, I’m sure I won’t agree with all of Mr. Austin’s decisions. But when the inevitable budget battles occur, it will be critical for our nation’s security and military members to have a secretary of defense who understands firsthand the very real morale and readiness problems that result from drastic cuts to our military.  

Let me conclude with this:

We are living through difficult times: a pandemic; racial tensions; riots; turmoil at the top of the Pentagon; and rising dangers from China, Russia, and Iran.

Mr. Austin’s confirmation won’t solve all these problems, but it will help. He represents the best of America. A man of integrity, humility, and character with a wealth of relevant experience. Our allies will take comfort in his confirmation, and our adversaries will take pause. And, as America’s first black secretary of defense, he will be an inspiration to millions – both in and out of uniform. 

I urge my colleagues to support his confirmation and the waiver it requires. Thank you.  

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