The US Senate confirmed retired general Lloyd Austin as defence secretary on Friday, making him the first black person to hold the position.

Mr Austin, who was confirmed in a 93-2 vote, is the second of President Joe Biden’s cabinet officials to be confirmed. Avril Haines, Mr Biden’s new director of national intelligence, was confirmed earlier this week.

Mr Austin’s military career has seen him serve for more than 40 years in the US army, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the only African-American to have led US Central Command, a combatant command which oversees military operations across the Middle East.

The former four-star general’s military career required him to gain a special waiver from Congress in order to allow him to serve in the Pentagon’s top position, a role which is intended to be held by a civilian. A waiver is required for the appointment of any military person who has been out of duty for fewer than seven years.

Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate armed services committee, described Mr Austin as “a trailblazer, who has once again made history”, praising his “ability, integrity and dynamic leadership”.

He added: “Our military reflects society. Today we celebrate progress while also recognising we have a long way to go.”

A third cabinet pick, Janet Yellen, was unanimously advanced by the Senate finance committee earlier on Friday, teeing up a final vote by the full Senate. Ms Yellen’s credentials and history at the Fed have made her a familiar face on Capitol Hill. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to hold that job.

Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on Senate finance, said that while he would support her nomination he did “not support some of what I believe will be Dr Yellen's political agenda”.

He added that he hoped Ms Yellen would continue to work with “both sides of the aisle” when it came to developing policies.

During her confirmation hearing earlier this week, Ms Yellen made the case for quick approval of the $1.9tn economic relief package proposed by Mr Biden, saying deficit concerns should take a back seat given the uneven, struggling recovery.