Senate Republicans are working to force confirmation votes on the two vacant Joint Chiefs of Staff seats early next month, but chamber Democrats are still holding out hope for a broader deal to advance hundreds of other pending military nominations.
Neither the Navy nor Air Force currently has a Senate-confirmed officer in their most senior uniformed post. Adm. Lisa Franchetti has been serving as acting chief of naval operations since mid-August, when Adm. Michael Gilday retired from the leadership role. Gen. David Allvin has been serving as acting Air Force chief of staff since Gen. Charles Q. Brown left the role last month to become the new Joint Chiefs chairman.
Confirmation votes on Allvin and Franchetti to permanently assume their respective leadership roles have been stalled for months as part of a larger nominations blockade by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., over his objections to the Defense Department’s abortion access policy.
The abortion fight has snarled more than 300 senior military promotions, a situation that Senate Democratic leaders have characterized as a national security crisis. On Wednesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., reiterated the need to approve the entire slate of officers “as quickly as possible.”
But he and other chamber leaders have resisted calls to vote on the military nominees individually, saying such a move would take up months of floor time and break precedent of quick consideration for noncontroversial work.
In response to that, Senate Republicans last month used parliamentary maneuvers to force Democrats into individual votes on three nominees: Brown to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Eric Smith to be commandant of the Marine Corps, and Gen. Randy George to be Army chief of staff. The three were all approved under expedited debate on the Senate floor.
Tuberville on Wednesday said that his GOP colleagues are planning on using similar moves to force a vote on Franchetti and Allvin soon.
“We could get them through with regular order, which is what I’ve been saying,” he said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is collecting signatures to force the votes. He said he hopes to act on the issue soon, although he could not say exactly when a vote will occur.
“We’ve got to move forward where we can, particularly with the Joint Chiefs,” he said. “But I’m also hoping to find ways to solve this globally.”
Reed criticized the Republican plan as only a partial fix to a serious problem.
“I think there’s a growing recognition among the Republicans that this [blockade] is harming our military, he said. “And we have to fix it.”
He said Democratic leaders have talked behind the scenes with some Republicans about “temporary procedural changes” that would allow for most or all of the waiting nominees to be advanced. He would not give other details of the negotiations.
Tuberville said he remains opposed to such a plan. He has said he will drop his holds if the Defense Department rescinds its abortion access policy, which allows for time off and travel stipends for troops to travel across state lines for abortion services if they are stationed in a state where such procedures are limited or banned.
Tuberville and Sullivan did not say when they will file petitions to force votes on Franchetti and Allvin. The chamber is scheduled to be in session until the week of Thanksgiving.
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.