Tuberville's hold on military promotions set to ensnare 2 more service chiefs
Stars and Stripes September 6, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold confirmation hearings next week for the next chief of naval operations and chief of staff of the Air Force but like hundreds of other military promotions this year, they will likely be blocked from moving forward.
The Senate’s traditional process for confirming senior officers by a unanimous voice vote has been obstructed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., for six months due to his opposition to a Pentagon reproductive health policy. There were no signs of progress this week as the Senate returned from a five-week summer recess, and three service secretaries who oversee the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Space Force have publicly condemned the hold.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the Democrat chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a West Point graduate, added to the criticism on Wednesday with a speech on the Senate floor outlining the compounding impact of Tuberville’s blockade.
“I am concerned the senator does not appreciate the gravity of this situation,” Reed said. “These positions cannot simply be filled by other officers — they can only be temporarily covered by their vice chiefs, who must also continue to cover their own jobs and at this level, most jobs are 24/7 so having two 24/7 jobs is quite demanding.”
Tuberville has refused to break the hold unless the Pentagon rescinds a policy providing leave and travel reimbursement for service members seeking abortions and other reproductive health services across state lines. He has argued that the Senate could vote on nominees one by one but with some 300 officers waiting for promotions, Democrats say such votes would eat up valuable floor time the upper chamber does not have and set a damaging precedent.
About 650 general and flag officers will need to pass through the Senate for promotion or reassignment by the end of the year, Reed said. Among them are Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti, set to become the first female chief of naval operations and the first woman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. David Allvin, the next expected chief of staff of the Air Force.
Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown is currently waiting for confirmation to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a post Army Gen. Mark Milley is set to vacate by the end of the month. And the Army, Navy and Marine Corps are without their top leaders for the first time in history, Reed said.
Reed stood Wednesday beside a photo of the portraits of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that greet visitors to the Pentagon, pointing to the three empty frames where the Army, Navy and Marine Corps service chiefs should be. If Tuberville’s hold continues, half of the body of the most senior uniformed leaders within the Defense Department will be unfilled, Reed said.
He also warned of the damaging toll of the blockade on military families, who he said are caught in limbo and cannot move to new duty stations, enroll in new schools or seek jobs.
“We know of many military students who have been disenrolled from their current schools in anticipation of a move, but now cannot be enrolled in new schools. We know of many children who have already missed out on the fall sports season. We know of families who paid out of pocket to move duty stations, in the hopes of reuniting with their service member whenever the senator sees reason,” said Reed. “We know of families who are losing literally thousands of dollars a month because the officers are assuming the duties of higher positions without holding higher ranks.”
Officer families surveyed in July by the organization Blue Star Families reported feeling the effects of the promotion block at all ranks, not solely at O7 or above.
“We have been awaiting confirmation for an overseas move,” said one spouse of an active-duty service member. “I had to resign from my job. … We are being sent to an ‘acting’ position with no idea how long we'll be living out of suitcases. … It is difficult to look for a new job with no timeline for the next potential move.”
A spouse of a field grade officer said they felt like they “don't have support from our representatives or [the] public.”
Reed on Wednesday urged Republicans to pressure Tuberville to stand down. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has previously expressed his opposition to Tuberville’s tactics.
“In the same way that military officers are expected to hold each other to account, my Republican colleagues must challenge their colleague to do what they know is right. They must say publicly what they admit many times in private: His behavior is shameful and damaging to our national security," Reed said. "When will my colleagues on the other side of the aisle speak out and act?"
Tuberville in recent weeks has started attacking the qualifications of the nominated officers he is blocking from promotion, retweeting posts from conservative groups that single out nominees for their progressive beliefs on race, gender and other issues.
When asked for comment Wednesday, Tuberville’s communications director, Steve Stafford, said there would be “nothing for Stars and Stripes.”