Nearly 90% of the military’s general and flag officers could be ensnared in Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s ongoing nominations fight by the end of the year, a situation a top Democratic lawmaker blasted as a “shameful charade” during a Senate floor speech on Wednesday.
“Sen. Tuberville has targeted the men and women of the military itself, and their families,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in his remarks. “He knows the damage he is causing to our military families and our national security. It appears he simply does not care.”
Reed’s comments came one day after senators returned from their late-summer recess and just about three weeks before the scheduled retirement of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
If a resolution on the nominations hold can’t be reached before the end of the month, that will leave the military’s top uniformed job vacant. Three other Joint Chiefs posts are already empty: the Army chief of staff, the chief of naval operations, and the commandant of the Marine Corps.
Tuberville’s hold currently covers about 300 senior military assignments awaiting approval in the Senate since Feb. 17. Reed said that number is expected to swell to around 650 by the end of the year, with another 110 officers forced to stay in their current posts and perform two jobs simultaneously.
The five armed services currently have 852 general and flag officers in total, according to Defense Department records.
“[Sen. Tuberville] has achieved what America’s enemies could only dream of: instability in the ranks of our military leadership,” Reed said.
“For the senator from Alabama to deny these officers their hard-won, merit-based promotions for his own political gain is simply disgraceful. After six months, it seems that neither reason nor shame will sway him.”
Tuberville has held up expedited approval of the military commanders (typically a non-controversial procedural move for the Senate) for six months over his objections to the Defense Department’s abortion access policies, put in place in fall 2022.
Under those rules, troops stationed in states where abortion services are limited or outlawed can receive unpaid leave and travel stipends to move across state lines for abortion counseling or procedures. Defense officials have called it a readiness and fairness issue. Tuberville has labeled it an illegal circumvention of state and federal laws.
In recent weeks, Tuberville has publicly attacked the White House for “woke” military policies he says distract from national security concerns and rebuffed Democratic requests for a reprieve.
“I didn’t start this,” Tuberville wrote on social media over the weekend. “The Biden Admin injected politics into the military and imposed an unlawful abortion policy on the American taxpayers. I am trying to get politics out of the military.”
Senate Democratic leaders could approve the nominations individually through normal chamber parliamentary procedures, but lawmakers have said doing so would take months of floor work, making it impractical.
On Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post attacking Tuberville for the political moves and appeared on CNN together to petition for a solution to the blockade.
“Tommy Tuberville, what he’s actually doing, he’s playing Russian roulette with the very lives of our service members by denying them the opportunity to actually have the most experienced combat leaders in those positions to lead them,” Del Toro said on CNN.
Some Senate Republican leaders have privately voiced concerns about the ongoing blockade, but Tuberville’s move has received largely public support from his colleagues.
Tuberville has said he will withdraw the holds if Defense Department leaders rescind the abortion policies, or if Congress votes to formally approve them. Reed said that Tuberville has been offered other votes in the chamber in response to his concerns but has declined.
“At this point, one has to wonder if the senator actually wants to achieve his demands, or if he just wants to stay in the spotlight,” Reed said.
In response to Reed’s floor remarks, Tuberville’s office released a statement that said “the more Democrats attack [the senator], the more he digs in.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee — of which both Reed and Tuberville are members — is scheduled to hold two more senior military nomination hearings next week.
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.