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Biden introduces retired Gen. Austin as his defense secretary nominee

Biden called on the Senate to grant Austin a waiver from a law requiring a specific period of retirement from active-duty service.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday formally introduced his nominee for defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Speaking from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden praised Austin — who, if confirmed, would be the first African American to lead the Defense Department — as the "right person for this job at the right time."

"More than 40 percent of our active-duty forces are people of color," Biden said. "It's long past time the department's leadership reflects that diversity."

Austin, 67, a retired four-star general and former head of U.S. Central Command, would need to be granted a waiver by the Senate from a law requiring that the defense secretary must have been retired from active-duty military service for at least seven years.

Biden called on the Senate to grant the waiver.

"I believe in the importance of civilian control in the military. So does the secretary-designate Austin. He'll be bolstered by a strong and empowered civilian sector and senior officers, senior officials," Biden said. "This nominee will honor and respect, and on a day-to-day basis, breathe life into the pre-emptive principle of civilian leadership over military matters in our nation."

Several Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, have said they won't support granting a waiver.

Austin, speaking after Biden, paid tribute to the "many people" who "have paved the way for me and countless others," including the Tuskegee Airmen and the Montford Point Marines.

He also vowed, if confirmed, to practice the kind of multilateralism that Biden has promised he'd rely on as president.

"America is strongest when it works with its allies," Austin said.

Austin also said he held "a deep appreciation and reverence for the prevailing wisdom of civilian control of our military."

"I intend to keep this at the forefront of my mind," he said.

Austin was the first African American to lead Central Command, which directs U.S. military operations and activities with allies and partners in the Middle East and parts of Africa, Central Asia and South Asia. He served in the role from 2013 to 2016 under President Barack Obama.

In other transition news:

  • Biden has chosen Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to serve as agriculture secretary, a position he held under Obama. If confirmed by the Senate, Fudge, 68, would be the first Black woman to lead the department in decades.
  • Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who was defeated in November, is the leading contender to be nominated for attorney general, three sources familiar with the discussions said.
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a GOP lawsuit that asked it to overturn Pennsylvania's certification of Biden's victory.
  • Biden vowed Tuesday that his administration would oversee the injection of 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots within his first 100 days as president and committed to reopen a "majority" of schools across the country in the same time period.

President Donald Trump has no public events Wednesday, according to his daily White House schedule.