In a surprise turnabout, Senate Republicans now are accusing Democratic leaders of slowing senior military promotions by refusing to schedule individual votes for the highest Defense Department leadership posts in order to work around the months-long hold by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., on hundreds of nominees.
“I don’t think it’d be too much to ask for the Senate to spend a little bit of time confirming general officers to positions like the Chief of Staff for the Air Force or Commandant of the Marine Corps or Chief of Naval Operations,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“Maybe my Democratic colleagues should go talk to (Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer, because they’re always encouraging us to go talk to Sen. Tuberville about this.”
The comments came during a confirmation hearing for Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, tapped by President Joe Biden earlier this summer to serve as the top uniformed officer for the service. His nomination is expected to be sent to the Senate floor for consideration in the next few weeks.
But it’s likely to stall there because of parliamentary moves by Alabama Republican Tuberville, who has blocked quick consideration of more than 300 senior military moves since late February over his objections to the military’s abortion access policies. That includes three members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who departed from their posts earlier this summer.
By the end of September, that list will also include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Gen. Mark Milley, who is required to retire from the post in the next few weeks. Democratic lawmakers – and Pentagon officials – say that Tuberville’s actions are undermining readiness and politicizing the military.
“These men and women and their units and their families are having their readiness and their lives negatively affected by (Tuberville’s) unprecedented actions,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said at the Air and Space Forces Association conference in Maryland on Tuesday.
Democratic senators have implored Republican senators for months to put pressure on Tuberville to drop his holds, with no success. Tuberville has countered that his move simply slows down the confirmation process but does not entirely stop it. Leadership can advance nominees through individual votes, rather than en masse approvals as has been tradition in the past.
Senate Armed Services Committee officials earlier this summer estimated getting through all of the nominees would take more than 80 days of eight-hour Senate sessions. Tuberville has disputed that timeline, but also noted that Democratic leaders should make the time if they are worried about the impact of the delays.
“Democrats are saying we should just approve them without ever voting,” Tuberville said in a floor speech Monday night. “Many of these nominees are worthy of nomination. I will agree and I will vote for them. But some are not. The senate ought to do our job under the constitution and advise and consent to these nominations.”
On Tuesday, several Republicans were echoing that same message.
“Leader Schumer can bring all of these highly qualified nominees to the floor for a vote, and we could be moving these nominees through,” said Sen. Ted Budd, R-N.C., at Allvin’s confirmation hearing.
But Democratic leaders have said going through all 300-plus nominees individually would take months, making it impractical and inefficient. They have also ruled out individual votes on nominees for top-ranking posts, saying that would send the wrong message to the military.
“The offer that’s being made by the GOP is to vote on the top brass and punish everybody else,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. “That’s completely contrary to what I know the U.S. military advocates.”
Tuberville insists that the administration’s policy on abortion access — granting leave time and travel stipends to service members in states where the procedure has been outlawed — is unprecedented and illegal. If Pentagon leaders refuse to change it, he said, then the only recourse to get around his hold will be scheduling individual votes.
Near the end of Allvin’s confirmation hearing, Tuberville praised the 38-year airman and said he believes Allvin will help guide the service in the right direction when he is finally confirmed.
“I wish they’d bring you to the floor today,” Tuberville told the nominee. “I’d vote for you for confirmation.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.