Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) hold on more than 300 military promotions is under fresh pressure as the Senate returns from a monthlong recess and more military leaders call on him to relent.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth penned an op-ed in The Washington Post Tuesday panning the Alabama Republican for eroding the “foundation” of the military, which already has Senate-confirmed vacancies atop the Army, Navy and the Marine Corps — the first time three services have been with acting heads.
The trio also charged that Tuberville’s hold is “exacting a personal toll on those who least deserve it,” including the families of those military figures who are being held up.
“Any claim that holding up the promotions of top officers does not directly damage the military is wrong — plain and simple,” they said in the op-ed. “The leaders whose lives and careers are on hold include scores of combat veterans who have led our troops into deadly combat with valor and distinction in the decades since 9/11. These men and women each have decades of experience and are exactly who we want — and need — to be leading our military at such a critical period of time.”
The comments came as senators returned to Washington Tuesday for the first time in more than a month with Tuberville’s hold at a complete standstill and lawmakers still at a complete loss on how to find an offramp.
Tuberville’s blockade, a protest of a Pentagon abortion policy enacted late last year that covers travel expenses for abortion care, is set to hit the six-month mark later this week.
Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — the top GOP member on the Senate Armed Services Committee — argued Tuesday that Democrats should consider a one-off vote later this month on Charles Q. Brown Jr.’s nomination to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs when current Chairman Mark Milley’s term ends Oct. 1.
“I’m not,” Wicker said when asked if he’s seeing any movement toward getting Tuberville to relent, adding that he has not talked with him in “several weeks.”
“I don’t have anything new to add. … I’d like to see a resolution. What [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer] should do is take the nomination of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the floor, as we do Cabinet members.”
“I hope we can resolve the issue,” he added.
But Democrats have for months argued that Tuberville’s holds are a puzzle Senate Republicans have to solve.
On Tuesday they maintained that holding individual votes on some of the highest-level military vacancies — including the Army, Navy and Marines chiefs — would create a slippery slope.
“I can understand why you could pick one or two here or there, but the bottom line is that this is an outrage what he is doing. It affects the entire military. If we are asked to go through these nominees individually for promotions, we’ll run out the calendar this year,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters. “The head of each of the services is waiting for this action by the Senate too, so I can understand. You can make a case for each of them.”
Durbin declined to discuss a possible one-off vote on Brown’s nomination, saying it’s an issue for Schumer and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to manage.
He also said that he is so fed up with the situation that he is more than happy to curtail recesses and work weekends in order to clear the queue of officers.
“I’ve reached that point a long time ago. I hope others will,” Durbin added.
Tuberville said Tuesday that he has still received no outreach from anyone in Senate Democratic leadership or the Pentagon, save for a couple of phone calls back in July with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that did not yield any progress.
“What makes me mad about this is they should call me,” Tuberville complained. “If you’re gonna run your mouth in the paper, have enough guts to call me first.”
That leaves everything at a stalemate.
Senate Republican leaders attempted to figure out a solution prior to the August recess amid work on the annual defense policy package, but they were stymied and unable to hammer out a solution.
“I’m not sure what ultimately happens with those holds. I think we’ll probably get a better sense of that now that everybody’s back in town. I’m hoping that they can figure something out — a solution,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “Obviously, we want to get a lot of those military leaders confirmed.”
Alexander Bolton contributed.