Senate Confirms Military Appointments, Bypassing Pro-Life Blockade by Tuberville

The blockade has caused a backlog of more than 300 appointments.

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of USAF Gen. David Allvin for reappointment to the grade of general and to be chief of staff of the Air Force on Sept. 12 at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington.
U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., speaks during a hearing to examine the nomination of USAF Gen. David Allvin for reappointment to the grade of general and to be chief of staff of the Air Force on Sept. 12 at Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington. (photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate began confirming military appointments one by one on Wednesday to bypass a pro-life blockade led by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, which has been holding up the usually routine process since February.

Military promotions and appointments to fill vacancies are normally approved in large blocks through the unanimous consent of the Senate, but one senator refusing to consent forces the chamber to take the votes up individually. Tuberville has blocked unanimous consent for seven months in protest of the Department of Defense’s pro-abortion policies. 

A new policy adopted last year provides paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for service members to obtain abortions, which was meant to increase access to abortion for anyone living in or stationed in states that impose restrictions on the procedure. It also covers travel costs for spouses or dependents to obtain abortions.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 83-11 to confirm its first individual military appointment since Tuberville’s blockade began: Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Senate confirmed two more appointments individually on Thursday — Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff and Gen. Eric Smith as commandant of the Marine Corps — but it’s unclear whether other nominees will get individual votes anytime soon. 

The blockade has caused a backlog of more than 300 appointments.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the blockade forced leadership “to confront his obstruction head on” by holding a vote but added that “this cannot continue.” He said the appointment would be confirmed, the DOD policy would remain in place, and Tuberville “will have accomplished nothing.” 

“What Sen. Tuberville is doing will set the military and the Senate down a path to vote on every single military promotion,” Schumer said. “It will make every single military officer’s promotion subject to the political whims of the Senate and even of one senator. It will change the nature of our nonpolitical military. It will hamstring the Senate and further bog down this body and make it harder for us to legislate.”

Tuberville responded to Schumer’s comments when speaking on the Senate floor later that day, saying that the Senate “could have confirmed these nominees a long, long time ago” but that Democrats have instead “spent months complaining about having to vote.” He said he will continue his blockade but blamed the backlog on Schumer for not holding any individual votes on the appointments. 

“My hold is still in place,” Tuberville said. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”

After the confirmation, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin thanked Schumer for holding the vote and criticized Tuberville for continuing his blockade.

“Sen. Tuberville’s continued hold on hundreds of our nation’s military leaders endangers our national security and military readiness,” Austin said in a statement. “It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees.”

Austin said Brown “will be a tremendous leader of our joint force and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity” and that the nominees are “well-qualified” and “apolitical.”

Federal law prohibits DOD funds from being “used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” Although the statute does not expressly prohibit funding for travel to obtain an abortion, some Republicans have argued that such funds violate the statute. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice told the DOD that such funding is permissible under the law.

Republicans have introduced legislation that would expressly prohibit agencies from funding ancillary expenses related to obtaining an abortion, but those efforts have failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

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