Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
The Pentagon says there are 301 generals and admirals whose nominations have been placed in limbo due to an indefinite ‘suspension’ of Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, who wants the military to change its military reimbursement policy for reproductive travel. care, including abortions.
By the end of the year, the Pentagon says that number could rise to 650 generals and admirals who need Senate confirmation before they can take office. Any senator can suspend appointments under Senate rules.
“The department has 83 three- and four-star nominations pending for positions that are either vacant or up for renewal within the next 150 days,” the Pentagon said in response to questions from reporters. “Because of this blanket support, for the first time in the Department’s history, three of our military services are operating without Senate-confirmed leaders. This is unprecedented, unnecessary, and dangerous.”
The Navy, Army, and Marine Corps are deprived of top leadership due to the grip. And by the end of September, General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will retire by law. It cannot be extended. The officer named to replace him, Air Force General CQ Brown, is also awaiting Senate approval.
The Pentagon gave this more detailed analysis.
“Sixty-one of these officers are unable to assume their new duties. More than 40 officers selected at the rank of one or two stars will assume the duties of the higher rank while remaining in their current rank until their confirmation Generals and Admirals are not allowed to have their rank date backdated, so each such officer will not receive a pay raise while serving at a higher rank.
“In addition, 25 officers have had their retirements postponed until restrictions are lifted or until December 31, 2023, whichever comes first,” the Pentagon said.
Tuberville argued that the Pentagon was breaking the law by reimbursing service members who travel to states with more lenient laws on abortion care. These refunds follow the reversal by the Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion for half a century. Now each state can develop its own abortion policy.
The Pentagon says a “small number” of service members are reimbursed for travel for reproductive care, including travel for in vitro fertilization, but has not yet provided details.
A 1980s federal law prohibits the federal government from funding abortions. Military and civilian officials say the payments are for transportation only, not care, but Tuberville held firm. He says he won’t change his mind until Democrats allow a vote on the policy.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made three calls to Tuberville, urging him to abandon the holds. A defense official told NPR the conversations were short, with Tuberville asking if the Pentagon would abandon its policy. And the members of the Senate attacked Tuberville.
“The senator from Alabama has chosen a deeply insulting and damaging route to make his displeasure known,” said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “The Senate has always treated military appointees with respect and bipartisan support as part of a routine promotion process. Today, they are being turned into political pawns by the Alabama senator.”
Additionally, military wives are also urging Tuberville to end his hold. Tonya Murphy, whose husband is a Navy commander, presented senators with a petition signed by 500 spouses. The senator claims to have a letter signed by 5,000 veterans supporting his position.
“I have warned the Pentagon that I will retain its most senior candidates if they break the law,” Tuberville said in a statement, first reported this week by Breitbart News. “They did it anyway and forced my hand. Since then, [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer and the Biden administration have refused any serious negotiation, and this situation drags on. I will continue this monitoring process and announce my opposition to specific candidates in the coming weeks.”
Officials hope Tuberville will allow at least some nominations to be put to a vote when the Senate returns in September — particularly for the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is the president’s top military adviser.