Gen. Lloyd Austin’s historic Defense nom gets backing from NAACP, other Black orgs

NAACP President Derrick Johnson, along with other leading members of 17 Black organizations, sent a letter to members of Congress, urging that the waiver be approved

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As President-elect Joe Biden‘s nominee for Defense Secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin, faces a challenge to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the NAACP and other prominent Black organizations are publicly throwing their support for his nomination.

Austin, a retired four-star Army general, has already achieved a historic mark as the first Black commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM). He could make history yet again, with President-elect Biden’s naming Austin as a nominee for Secretary of Defense. Several Black organizations are urging Congress to approve a process that would help push the nomination forward.

Read More: Democrats attempt to put Pentagon waiver for Lloyd Austin in funding bill

Austin, 67, has worked previously with President Barack Obama’s administration as CENTCOM’s director, leaving the post after his retirement in March 2016. Previously, Austin served as the  Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army (VCSA), heading that office in 2012.

Among other significant roles, Austin became the Commanding General of the United States Forces – Iraq sub-unified command in September 2010.

The Mobile, Ala. native accepted President-elect’s Biden’s nomination earlier this month, stating in his acceptance speech, “I recognize that being a member of the president’s cabinet requires a different perspective and unique responsibilities from a career in uniform. And I intend to keep this at the forefront of my mind.”

U.S. Army (retired) General Lloyd Austin speaks after being formally nominated to be Secretary of the Department of Defense by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden at the Queen Theatre on December 09, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Austin will need a congressional waiver of the National Security Act of 1947, which would eliminate the standing rule that seven years should pass before a former active-duty member of the military assumes the cabinet position. Prominent Democrats are offering slight pushback, while other rumblings point to concerns that Austin’s focus in the Middle East may make him ill-equipped to handle the complexities of the role as it relates to China and other foreign interests.

theGrio spoke with NAACP President Derrick Johnson who, along with other leading members of 17 Black organizations, sent a letter to members of Congress on Dec. 16, urging that the waiver is approved and that confirmation for Austin is swift.

Johnson remained staunch in his view that Austin is more than qualified, echoing the sentiments of former defense secretaries Colin Powell and Robert Gates, and Col. Earl G. Matthews, all Republicans.

In this Sept. 16, 2015, photo, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

“For the NAACP and the other organizations that undersigned the letter, we wanted to make sure that Gen. Austin’s consideration for the post isn’t sidelined because of the waiver. We’ve seen in recent times a waiver being approved for Gen. [Jim] Mattis so he could serve, and we believe that the same should go for Gen. Austin,” Johnson explained.

“Our national security is too important to politicize, and the men and women of the armed services deserves someone of Gen. Austin’s character to lead in this moment. He is more than qualified to serve in this capacity,” he added.

Johnson believes that the general worked in the capacity in which he was chosen, thus his past focus on the Middle East should not come as a barrier to his ascension to the role.

“I wonder if we’re comparing apples to apples. That was a different time and Afghanistan, and the Middle East were part of the military’s focus during [Gen. Austin’s] time of service,” Johnson stated.

Gen. Lloyd Austin Image: Getty Images

“I do know that he’s well qualified and I can say that he’s a leader that would build confidence within our armed forces, especially when our current commander-in-chief didn’t stand up for them when foreign powers were taking bounties out on the heads of servicemen and servicewomen. There’s no reaction at all [from Trump].”

theGrio asked Johnson about Col. Matthews’ glowing endorsement of Gen. Austin and what it could mean for his nomination. Matthews, it should be noted, is a Black Republican who continues to support the current administration.

“It indicates to me that Col. Matthews is someone who puts country before partisanship. There are certain functions of our government that should go unaffected by partisanship,” Johnson deftly answered.

Read More: Tuskegee Airmen letter throws support to Biden’s Defense nominee Gen. Lloyd Austin

“Our armed forces are one of those things. I equate that with the Post Office. We’ve politicized that function and it shouldn’t be. I hope we get to a place where critical functions, such as protecting the nation, rise above the partisan rancor that we’ve seen over the past four years.”

In closing, Mr. Johnson spoke to the historical importance of Gen. Austin’s nomination and approval should he gain the waiver.

“I think that Gen. Austin’s nomination is an example of what a truly integrated society could be. The armed forces has always been one of the functions of our government that allows individuals to rise to their highest heights regardless of racial or ethnic identity, and even gender identity most recently. So this is a continuation of that great promise,” Johnson concluded.

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