Something happened Friday in Washington that we don’t see much of these days. Republicans and Democrats came together in agreement.
The Senate voted 93-2 to confirm retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin to be secretary of defense. And just a day earlier — by a margin of 326-78 in the House of Representatives and 69-27 in the Senate — Congress granted a waiver for Austin to serve as head of the Defense Department under the 1947 National Security Act. Such a waiver was required because he had been out of military service for only five years, rather than the required seven under the act.
The reason we have a federal government, and the reason the states came together in the first place, was to “provide for the common defense” of our people. Keeping America safe is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is an American issue. The overwhelming support of both Republicans and Democrats for Austin shows that the vast majority of Congress understands this.
And fortunately, we’ve seen other evidence of this bipartisanship recently as well, such as when U.S. Reps Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Jim Cooper D-Tenn., worked together to win approval for creation of the U.S. Space Force and reestablishment of U.S. Space Command, which the Air Force recently announced will be moving to Huntsville, Ala.
Now more than ever, with our nation facing uncertain national security challenges, maintaining this kind of bipartisanship in national security is critical.
Austin, who is our nation’s first African American secretary of defense, has a sterling reputation among former and current military leaders. He is exceptionally qualified, and has the right mix of life experiences that will enable him to be one of our nation’s best defense secretaries.
Within just a couple of hours of being sworn in on Friday afternoon, Austin issued a memorandum to everyone in the Defense Department. The new secretary wrote that keeping America safe is Job One. And he said that his job is ensuring our armed forces have whatever it takes “to deter and defeat our enemies” and “helping our country get control of the pandemic.”
Secretary Austin further stated that “we must help the Federal Government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus.” He concluded by saying: “Defending the country requires teamwork and cooperation. It requires a certain humility, a willingness to learn, and absolute respect for one another.”
Make no mistake, Lloyd Austin has hit the ground running to keep America safe and he is leading. Quite frankly, I would expect no less. It’s what he’s always done.
“Look out for Lloyd Austin — he gets it and is the real deal,” the late Army Maj. Gen. “Sandy” Davidson told me back in 2006. Davidson was a good friend and someone I trusted on all military matters. He was also a big fan of Austin, who he worked for and who later went on to command U.S. Forces-Iraq, serve as Army vice chief of staff, and became CENTCOM commander.
Following our initial conversation about Austin, Davidson would later introduce me to him at CENTCOM HQ. I have followed Austin’s career ever since and I have also been a fan, and even wrote about him in my book, “The New Terrorism: How to Fight it and Defeat It.”
Our new secretary of defense will face a challenging national security landscape: China and Russia, continued unrest in the Middle East fomented by Iran, instability and dangerous nuclear provocation in North Korea, dynamic threats from global terrorist networks, and the ongoing evolution of nefarious activity in the burgeoning cyber and space domains, just to name a few.
I was particularly pleased to see Secretary Austin use his memorandum to address the coronavirus and the role the Defense Department can play in making things happen faster to win this fight.
Military medicine is all about saving lives. Getting our military doctors involved at the start (and throughout) of a pandemic is something I have long advocated and addressed in several Fox News opinion pieces beginning last February.
The Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Military Infectious Disease Research Program, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency have no equal in coming up with what it takes to save American lives.
Austin is a leader. I believe you will now see a real stepped-up engagement by the Defense Department with American businesses with the tools, raw materials, platforms and technologies to greatly speed up vaccine production and roll out breakthrough therapeutics for COVID-19.
The Lloyd Austin story is the American story. He has come a long way from growing up in Thomasville, Ga. He turned down an academic scholarship to Notre Dame in order to go to West Point and has been serving his country ever since.
Austin is a quiet man who leads and a humble man who inspires confidence. Gen. Davidson was right. Lloyd Austin “gets it and is the real deal.” Our nation is fortunate to have his leadership once again during challenging times — now as our secretary of defense.