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)

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday objected to Republican suggestions that they bypass a single senator’s blockade on military promotions by voting on the next Air Force chief of staff and other top brass one by one.

The idea pushed by Republicans allied with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has held up more than 300 officer nominations in protest of a Pentagon reproductive health care policy, was met with derision by Democrats as the panel vetted Gen. David Allvin for promotion to Air Force chief of staff.

“We don’t mind voting on people but the implication is why not vote on the top brass and just punish all the people below them?” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “That seems to be the offer that’s being made by the GOP: Vote on the top brass and punish everybody else.”

Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Ted Budd, R-N.C., placed responsibility for the logjam and mounting impact of the holds on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who they said could move forward on the most senior nominees.

“We could easily confirm you if Chuck Schumer would get off the dime and show that he actually cares about supporting our men and women in uniform,” Cotton told Allvin. “I don’t think it would be too much to ask for the Senate to spend a little bit of time confirming four-star general officer positions.”

The Senate typically confirms military nominees with unanimous voice votes but held a roll call vote in 2019 for Army Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cotton suggested Schumer do the same with Milley’s nominated replacement Gen. C.Q. Brown, the current Air Force chief of staff.

Milley is required to leave his post Oct. 1.

Schumer has so far refused to put Brown or any individual Pentagon nominees on the Senate floor and said it is the responsibility of Republicans to force Tuberville to back down.

Kaine described Republican attempts to blame Schumer for vacancies that have now left the Army, Marine Corps and Navy without Senate-confirmed leaders as “laughable” and “embarrassing.” He said the proposal to focus on the most senior nominees ran “completely contrary” to military ethics.

Tuberville and Cotton were not in the room to hear Kaine’s remarks.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said the standoff between Tuberville and the Pentagon over a policy that provides leave and travel reimbursement for service members and dependents seeking abortions and other health care has reached a critical point.

The growing number of vacant officer positions is making NATO leaders question the commitment of the U.S. to the military alliance, which has played a vital role in supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, she said.

Nearly 90% of the military’s general and flag officers are expected to be affected by Tuberville’s hold by the end of the year, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the committee, said last week.

“I’ll be blunt: The actions of the senator from Alabama have become a national security nightmare,” Warren said. “Instead of trying to embarrass the United States in front of its allies and trying to embolden its enemies, the senator from Alabama should lift his holds and let our top military leaders do their jobs.”

Tuberville did not address his blockade Tuesday during the confirmation hearing for Allvin. He told the general, who is now serving as vice chief of staff of the Air Force, that he’ll “do an outstanding job” in his nominated position.

Allvin told senators that he worried about the disruptions and distractions the hold will have on the Air Force. Warren noted the service has the highest number of senior officers trapped in Tuberville’s hold of all the military branches.

“While we don’t have specific hard data, my experience and my personal judgment says that this does hurt recruiting and retention,” Allvin said.

Allvin has served in the Air Force since 1986. He has flown more than 4,600 hours as a command pilot, including 100 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Air Force. Allvin became the Air Force vice chief of staff in 2020, assisting with the organizing, training and equipping of nearly 700,000 active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and civilian personnel.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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