Sullivan, Senate Vote to Confirm Lloyd Austin as Defense Secretary
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted today with 92 of his Senate colleagues to confirm Lloyd Austin as the secretary of defense. Austin is a retired four-star Army general.
Yesterday, Sullivan voted to waive a National Security Act of 1947 requirement that would have mandated Austin wait seven years following the conclusion of his military service before being eligible to serve as defense secretary. Sullivan and Austin served together in the Middle East between 2005-2006 under retired Army General John Abizaid, then the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Austin was then a two-star Army general. Sullivan was a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
Sullivan spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday evening regarding the Austin nomination prior to the final floor vote on Friday.
Below is a transcript of Senator Sullivan’s remarks:
Madam President, I also want to talk about another important issue, and that is President Biden's nomination for the very important job of secretary of defense, Mr. Lloyd Austin. We are going to be voting on his nomination here on the Senate floor in a couple of hours.
I had the honor of introducing Mr. Austin just two days ago at his confirmation hearing, and I thought the confirmation hearing went well. So I want to talk a little bit about Mr. Austin before we take what will essentially be two important votes for his confirmation.
Now, the last time I was actually on the floor of the U.S. Senate, our Capitol was under siege, and from a foreign policy and national security perspective, America's authoritarian rivals have been gloating over what happened on that day. They have been reveling in our disunity. Democracy brings chaos, they tell their people. It is better to have a strong hand that keeps order. Well, as you know, we do live in an imperfect democracy, no doubt, and the American I was honored to introduce at the Armed Services hearing the other day, Mr. Lloyd Austin, understands our imperfections more than many.
Yet, on closer inspection, the world's dictators have little to celebrate. Congress went back to work on January 6, right here on the Senate floor, to count electoral votes, and yesterday there was a peaceful transfer of power at the top of our government, as there has been since our Republic's founding.
At some point--maybe sooner than we think--Chinese and Russian citizens are going to ask: Hey, why can't we do that? Why don't we have strong, resilient institutions that ensure the regular elections of new leaders and that invest in self-government and the people?
When these citizens ask these questions of authoritarians like Putin or Xi Jinping, they are not going to be gloating anymore because they won't have answers to these questions.
So what does this all have to do with Mr. 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 over the last few years to rebuild our military's strength and readiness, but I think we can all agree that there has been too much turmoil at the top at the Pentagon. As its civilian leader, I am confident that Mr. Austin will bring steadiness, leadership, and respect to this indispensable American institution.
I got to know Mr. Austin in 2005 and 2006 while serving together in an Army-heavy combatant command as we conducted combat operations throughout the Middle East. We had what might be referred to today as an unequal power relationship. He was a two-star general. I was a major. He had spent years 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 who had been recalled to Active Duty and deployed in the region during a challenging time for our nation. Yet, when I asked for his time, Mr. Austin gave it. When I had a problem, he listened. 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, those down the chain of command. What I saw was respect and integrity and someone who knew how to get things done in a difficult environment.
It is clear to me the core principles of Mr. Austin's life have been duty, honor, country. West Point has done its job. Now, 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, and as the former director of the joint staff and as the former CENTCOM commander, Mr. Austin certainly has insight on critical issues, such as interagency budget battles, working with allies, and congressional oversight.
Mr. Austin is also 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, you may recall that, about 10 days ago, we had a hearing in the Committee on Armed Services on this very important topic, but I actually thought some of the witnesses had rather simplistic views of this important issue.
They had brought up topics and discussions of so-called “military logic” by those who wear the uniform versus “political logic” for those who don't wear the uniform.
So let me play devil's advocate for those who participated and watched that hearing.
The very nature of the confirmation hearing that we had with Mr. Austin just 2 days ago and, indeed, the very nature of the transfer of power that we saw yesterday here at the Capitol are evidence, in my view, that the civilian control of the military is not at risk in America. I actually believe the related but opposite problem should be of more concern today, at this moment, and that problem is no military experience in the top ranks of our government. With the exception of Mr. Austin, no nominee on the incoming Biden administration's 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 am 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, very importantly, the military members and their families who serve to have a secretary of defense who understands firsthand the very real morale and readiness problems that result from drastic cuts to our military--something, unfortunately, I think many of my colleagues here in the Senate will be pushing for and even members of the Biden administration will be pushing for.
So let me conclude with this. Right now, a number of us are interviewing cabinet members for confirmation for the incoming Biden administration. I anticipate opposing some, supporting others. Certainly, I anticipate opposing some if I believe they will hurt the working families of my state. But with regard to Mr. Austin, I am fully supporting his nomination.
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 of 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 African-American secretary of defense, he will be an inspiration to millions both in and out of uniform.
For all of these reasons, I strongly urge my colleagues to support Mr. Austin's confirmation and the waiver in federal law that it requires.
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