The US Senate would need to hold 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week continuous voting sessions for 30 straight days to bypass the procedural hold that Senator Tommy Tuberville has applied to the promotions of every general in the US military, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

If Senators wanted to confine those vote-a-rama sessions to normal business hours — perhaps prudent, since six of the lawmakers will be over 80 by early October — the votes would take 90 days, leaving no time to address other business like the federal budget.

That’s how long, the CRS estimated this week, it would take to reach the 689 hours and 20 minutes of constant motions, comment periods, and roll call votes, plus two procedural days, required to approve promotions for each of the 273 generals and admirals Tuberville is holding up with one-at-a-time confirmation votes.

The report was generated by Sen. Jack Reed’s office as the chairman and senior majority member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee, which oversees military budgets and policy for the Senate.

Tuberville is in his first term as a Senator from Alabama after a career as a college football coach. He invoked a so-called “blanket hold” in February on senior military promotions in response to a Pentagon policy he views as promoting abortion. That policy allows service members to be reimbursed for costs associated with traveling for reproductive medical care that is not available in the state where they are stationed.

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A memo written by Democratic subcommittee staffers that accompanied the CRS report said Tuberville’s hold has stopped the promotion of 273 generals across all five branches of the military — or over a quarter of the 852 generals currently in place, including those serving in the Guard and Reserve.

“This number does not account for the hundreds of military spouses and children who cannot move to new duty
stations, enroll in new schools, and seek new jobs,” the Democrat’s memo said. “Nor does it account for the millions of servicemembers who are now serving without Senate-confirmed leaders and commanders.”

Steven Stafford, a spokesman for Tuberville’s office, took issue with the 700-hour finding. In an email to Task & Purpose, Stafford said a single confirmation should take two hours, for a total below 600 hours. But that number, he insisted, fell entirely in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who could alter Senate rules during voting to make the process much faster.

“We had no votes yesterday because Chuck Schumer was busy meeting with Elon Musk,” Stafford told Task & Purpose in an email (the Tesla and Space X CEO was one of several technology executives who met with senators on Wednesday to discuss emerging “artificial intelligence” tech). “The Senate has had more than 80 days off this year. We just took five weeks off, plus Labor Day. This has been one of the least productive Senates of modern times. If there is a large backlog of nominations that is because Chuck Schumer allowed it to get that way.”

Five of the eight positions on the Joint Chiefs of Staff are or soon will be vacant due to the hold. Among them is Air Force General Charles Brown, who has been nominated to replace Gen. Mark Milley as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October, along with the chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Democrat’s memo noted several examples of the impact of missed promotions on military families, including children missing schools, generals paying for storage of their own household goods due to interrupted moving schedules, and spouses who have lost jobs when assignments were put off.

Stafford disputed the Democrat’s view that generals would receive no “back pay” for the months of delay.

“There is no back pay mechanism for these officers,” the memo said. “Their pay is tied to their rank, which is tied to [the date of] their appointment to that rank.”

Stafford noted that “Congress could easily pass legislation giving them back pay. Does Jack Reed refuse to do that?”

Tuberville’s hold is a rules-based maneuver that shortcircuits the way the Senate normally approves military promotions. By law, the Senate must approve the promotion and assignment of all generals and admirals, including the promotion of colonels or Navy captains to one-star positions. Rather than approve each name individually with long roll call votes — as the Senate does for most laws — the Senate historically approves dozens of promotions by “unanimous consent” on a single vote taken by voice. But that shortcut can be nixed if a Senator formally objects to the process, as Tuberville has since February, forcing the names to go through the regular voting process.

Tuberville has come under pressure from a wide range of voices for the hold, including former secretaries of defense and retired generals.

Alabama banned all abortions in 2022, one of 22 states to enact total or near-total bans on abortion in recent years. Those bans apply to military members stationed in those states seeking off-base abortion care. Except in rare circumstances, abortion cannot be offered on military bases.

“Democrats’ position on this is becoming increasingly untenable,” said Stafford. “They can’t claim that this is a readiness issue and simultaneously refuse to vote on nominees, especially while we are voting on things that are a lot less important than, say, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.”

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