With the top spots at the Army, Navy and Marine Corps now vacant, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin blasted Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blanket hold on department confirmations on Monday for “undermining America’s military readiness” and adding stress to an untold number of military families.

“This is unprecedented, it is unnecessary, and it is unsafe,” Austin said at a retirement ceremony for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday in Maryland. “It’s hindering our ability to retain our very best officers and it is upending the lives of far too many American military families.

“Our troops deserve better. Our military families deserve better. And our allies and partners deserve better and our national security deserves better.”

Gilday is set to be replaced by Adm. Lisa Franchetti, the current vice chief of naval operations, which would make her the first woman ever to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But a vote for her confirmation — and more than 300 others, including the top military officer posts in the Army and Marine Corps — have been held up by Tuberville, the senator from Alabama. Gilday’s retirement leaves three of the Defense Department’s eight most senior positions without a Senate-confirmed leader.

Since March, Tuberville has refused to allow Senate leaders to fast-track all senior military nominations and promotions over his objections to the Defense Department’s abortion policy announced last fall. Under that policy, service leaders can provide time off and travel stipends for service members to travel across state lines to seek out abortion services.

Austin has said the move is necessary in the wake of a growing number of states limiting or outlawing the procedures. Tuberville — and some other conservative lawmakers — said the policy is a ploy to circumvent state laws and expand abortion access for political gains.

In response to Austin’s comments, Tuberville’s office released a statement disputing that any military readiness has been compromised.

“This particular stand is necessary because the Biden administration has shown that, unless held accountable, they will continue to violate the law and use our tax dollars to promote an extreme left-wing agenda,” the statement said.

Senate leaders could confirm the nominations without Tuberville’s cooperation, but doing so would take months of non-stop floor procedures, essentially sidelining all other legislative work.

They also could opt to confirm just a few key positions, but thus far have declined to do so.

The number of vacant top spots could increase to four in the next few months. Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley is set to retire in October. President Joe Biden’s pick to replace him, Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, is awaiting his nomination to come before the full Senate, where Tuberville is expected to continue his nominees blockade.

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.

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