Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) lifted his blockade on 425 military nominations Tuesday, keeping holds in place just on a handful of four-star officers in some of the Pentagon’s most senior positions.
By Tuesday evening, the Senate had voted to confirm the nominations of all 425 officers released by Tuberville, putting them immediately into the jobs they have been waiting to assume — with the commensurate paychecks — for as long as 10 months. Dozens of reports from across the military had emerged of senior posts at major units going unfilled, leaving both direct leadership vacuums for troops in day to day life and administrative backlogs that required an intact chain of command. Many senior officer had seen retirements postponed or PCS-orders held up, impacting housing arrangements, school for children and the careers of spouses.
Using a Senate rule, Tuberville had held the promotions of every general and admiral in the armed forces since February in protest of a Department of Defense policy that pays for out-of-state travel for service members seeking abortions and other reproductive health care.
The list of officers affected by Tuberville’s hold grew to over 400 across all five armed services, from deployed combatant commanders to major regional intelligence and training units.
Tuberville’s release applies to hundreds of generals in regional positions but will apparently stay in effect for the Pentagon’s most senior leaders. Air Force Brig. Gen Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said at least 11 4-star general and officer nominations would continue to be affected by Tuberville’s hold.
“All of those positions, obviously, are key senior leadership positions to include the vice chiefs of the various services, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, the commander of Air Combat Command, as well as the commander of United States Northern Command, Cyber Command, and Space Command,” Ryder said.
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The recent turmoil across the globe underscores how important the Defense Department’s mission is, Ryder said at a Pentagon news conference. When it’s unclear if the U.S. military can have the senior leaders that it needs in place, that creates uncertainty, which affects readiness and causes “an unnecessary friction,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and you need to have the right leaders in place in order to carry out those operations,” Ryder said. “Oh, by the way: In some cases, when you’re in an acting capacity, you don’t have the full authorities necessary to sign off on policies or to make decisions, or – by virtue of statues that may exist that require a Senate-confirmed leader – to be able to carry out certain duties. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum and the importance of making sure that all holds are lifted and that nominations can make their way through the Senate.”
Pushback against Tuberville has been widespread, including with unprecedented political weigh in from the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who warned of its national security implications.
Military leaders and fellow Senators of Tuberville’s own Republican party had called on Tuberville to step aside, claiming that the backlog in leadership changes was causing real readiness issues throughout the military.
In a letter obtained by POLITICO, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking Republican Sen. Roger Wicker sent a letter to Secretary Austin that he found evidence of only 12 service members who used the policy.
Tuberville represents Alabama, where abortion is effectively banned, including for service members stationed at bases there who might seek care at off-base facilities. By federal law, US military health facilities cannot provide abortion services on any military base.
Following Tuberville’s announcement, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) issued a statement saying he was glad that hundreds of military leaders will now have their promotions confirmed by the Senate.
“They, and their families, have shown us what grace and grit look like in the face of hardship, said Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Senator Tuberville’s actions have been an affront to the United States military and the Senate. He has jeopardized our national security and abused the rights afforded to all Senators. No Senator should ever attempt to advance their own partisan agenda on the backs of our troops like this again.”
UPDATE: 12/05/2023; this story has been updated with comments from Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). It has also been updated to reflect the Senate vote Tuesday afternoon confirming promotions of the officers.
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