Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., talks with Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on July 12, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., talks with Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on July 12, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

Hundreds of military spouses are demanding Senate leaders find a way to end an Alabama Republican senator’s single-handed blockade of more than 280 senior officer promotions.

Roughly 500 spouses in a petition delivered Monday on Capitol Hill blasted Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s procedural hold on all general and admiral promotions as an “inappropriate and unpatriotic” political maneuver that harms the impacted officers and their families. Tuberville has blocked the Senate from confirming batches of general and admiral nominations by voice vote since February in protest of a Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for travel expenses incurred to seek certain reproductive health care banned in several states, including abortions, and allows them to use their personal leave to do so.

“No matter your political beliefs, we must agree that service members and military families will not be used as political leverage,” the Secure Families Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that advocates for military spouses and families, wrote in the letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the upper chamber’s majority and minority leaders, respectively. “It’s time to end this political showmanship and recommit to respect the service and sacrifice of those who pledge to defend this nation.”

The group implored the Senate leaders to do all they could to convince Tuberville to drop his hold, work out political disagreements “outside the military space” and quickly confirm all the senior officer promotions that have been blocked. The growing list of promotions, which includes nominees for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army chief of staff, the Marine commandant and the Navy’s chief of naval operations and other four-star positions, is expected to grow to more than 650 individuals by the end of the year.

The group said it also delivered the petition Monday to Tuberville’s office. A spokesman for Tuberville declined to comment Tuesday about the letter.

Tuberville, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has repeatedly maintained the Pentagon policy is illegal because it violates the Hyde Amendment, which bans any federal funding for abortions. The senator did not appear to change his position last week after a closed-door Capitol Hill briefing from Pentagon officials on his blockade’s impact on the military.

Tuberville told reporters after the July 17 meeting that he had entered the briefing with an “open mind, to be convinced that this is affecting readiness.” But he said Pentagon officials “gave a poor answer.” The senator has said he would only drop the hold if the Pentagon ends the policy or if Congress votes to encode the travel reimbursements and leave policy in law.

Senate Democrats disagreed with Tuberville's assessment of the briefing. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Armed Services committee, said the Pentagon officials were convincing in their arguments that the policy in question is legal.

“I am even more convinced of the necessity and appropriateness of this policy, which is critical for the health of our military women, men, and their families,” Reed said in a statement after the meeting.

Tuberville has repeatedly defended his action, which holds the Senate from simultaneously confirming large numbers of military promotions in a single voice vote. He has maintained the Senate can still confirm military leaders nominated for promotion one at a time. Democrats, however, have rejected that idea, saying it would eat up months of Senate business time.

The Republican-led House this month passed its version of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual must-pass bill that sets Pentagon spending and policy priorities, with a provision to repeal Austin’s policy on travel reimbursement for abortions or other reproductive medical care. The Senate version of the bill was still in the works this week, but the Democrat-led upper chamber was not expected to back such a repeal.

Last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon that he expected Tuberville’s hold on military promotions was making U.S. adversaries “pretty happy that we create this kind of turbulence [and] put that on our force.”

Sarah Streyder, the executive director of the Secure Families Initiative and a Space Force spouse, said Monday in a social media post that military spouses could continue to sign on to the group’s petition and more signatures would be delivered to the senators in the future, if necessary.

“This is not a football game,” Streyder said, referencing Tuberville’s previous career as a college football coach. “This is our future. This is our lives.”

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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