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Defense chief nominee Lloyd Austin vows to respect civilian control of military

The retired four-star general has only been out of uniform since 2016 and will require a Congressional waiver in order to become Secretary of Defense.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden's choice to lead the Department of Defense had his confirmation hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

"I was a general and a soldier," Lloyd Austin said. "And I'm proud of that. But I appear before you as a citizen, the son of a postal worker and homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia. And I'm proud of that, too. And if you confirm me, I'm prepared to serve now as a civilian, fully acknowledging the importance of that distinction."

The retired four-star general did his best to allay any fears that he hasn't been out of the military a sufficient amount of time. But the fact is, he's been out for less than five years, and federal law requires that he be retired for seven.

So he'll need a congressional waiver in order to lead the nation's 2.1 million troops as President-elect Joe Biden's Secretary of Defense.

Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he gets it.

"The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil," he said.

If he gets the job, Austin said he'd work to make the military more just.

"We also owe our people a working environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment," he said. " And if confirmed, I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault and to rid the ranks of racists and extremists and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity."

In an apparent reference to the January 6 mob assault on the U.S. Capitol which resulted in at least some of the arrested rioters turning out to be military veterans, Austin said: "The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies. But, we can't do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks."

There were three other Senate confirmation hearings for various national security posts in the new administration on Tuesday.

First up was Biden's nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, who said she'd always stick to the facts.

"To be effective, the DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power even -- especially -- when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult," she said. "To safeguard the integrity of our intelligence community, the NDI must insist that when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics, ever."

Biden's nominee for Homeland Security Secretary was also asked about keeping politics out of decision-making.

"I look forward to playing a critical role in empowering the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in an apolitical, non-partisan way, to do its important job and tackle the threat that domestic extremism is today," said Alejendro Mayorkas.

Also questioned by lawmakers was Biden's pick to be the next Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken.

He pledged to work in a bipartisan manner with Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as with the executive branch working with the legislative branch.

"We can only tackle the urgent challenges as we have if we work together, and I am dedicated to doing just that," he said.