General Lloyd Austin

President-elect Joe Biden has chosen retired Army General Lloyd Austin as his secretary of defense.

He made the nomination on Wednesday and urged Congress to approve a waiver allowing Austin to lead the Pentagon sooner than he is allowed under federal law.

Austin will be the first Black man to helm the Pentagon if confirmed by the Senate.

Mr. Biden unveiled his decision to tap Austin as defense secretary in an essay published Tuesday by The Atlantic, in which he called the retired Army general a “true and tested soldier and leader.” Then, in an event from Wilmington, Delaware, Wednesday, Mr. Biden praised Austin as someone he has “seen perform to the highest standards under intense pressure.”

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“There’s no question that he is the right person for this job at the right moment, leading the Department of Defense at this moment in our nation’s history,” the president-elect said, adding that he and Austin have traveled to “some of the more interesting parts of the world” together while Mr. Biden was vice president.

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In acknowledging the barriers Austin would break if he is confirmed to helm the Pentagon, the president-elect noted the retired general has made history throughout his military career.

“He’s been breaking down barriers and blazing a trail forward in this nation for many years now, for more than 40 years, and he has a long way to go and he’s going to do it again,” Mr. Biden said, calling him “cool under fire” and “inspiring” to those around him.

“That’s Lloyd Austin,” he said.

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Austin, 67, will be the second former uniformed military commander to lead the Pentagon in the last four years, following former Marine General Jim Mattis, President Trump’s first secretary of defense.

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Federal law requires military officers to wait seven years after retiring from active-duty service before serving in top civilian defense roles, such as Pentagon chief. But Congress can approve a waiver exempting Austin, who retired in 2016, from the law, as it did for Mattis in 2017.

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