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Senate Republicans excoriate Tommy Tuberville over military blockade

‘By the end of this year 89 per cent of all general officer positions in the military will be affected by the current holds,’ Alaska Sen Dan Sullivan says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 02 November 2023 15:56 GMT
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Related video: War In Israel Hasn’t Changed Tommy Tuberville’s Position on Nominations

Senate Republicans forcefully criticised their Alabama colleague, former college football coach Sen Tommy Tuberville, for his blockade of military nominees in protest of the Pentagon’s policy on abortion.

Mr Tuberville has been blocking the confirmations of new military leaders citing his opposition to the Department of Defense’s policy of paying for troops needing abortions to travel out of state for reproductive health care services if they are stationed in areas where the procedures have become unavailable following the striking down of the Roe v Wade ruling by the Supreme Court in the summer of 2022.

The blockade has made several top-level officers perform multiple jobs concurrently.

GOP senators pushed on Wednesday night for the confirmation of more than 60 military nominees but Mr Tuberville refused to give in.

The effort was headed by Sen Dan Sullivan of Alaska and he was backed up by Sens Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd Young of Indiana, and Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

They each requested votes on every officer by unanimous consent, a process which took hours, but Mr Tuberville was there to block all of them.

“The Pentagon has issued a legal opinion I disagree with saying this doesn't violate the Hyde Amendment. I disagree with it,” Mr Graham said before directly addressing Mr Tuberville.

“You just denied this lady a promotion,” he said, holding up an image of one of the military nominees. “All of us are ready to promote her because she deserves to be promoted. She had nothing to do with this policy. Let me say it again, everybody in this body could find an issue with any administration they don't agree with.”

“What we’re gonna do is open up Pandora’s Box. Today is abortion policy. If we take back the White House, we’ll go back to the Mexico City policy limiting dollars to be given to overseas entities that are engaged in the abortion business, some pro-choice people don’t like that,” Mr Graham, a former member of the Air Force, added. “What would happen if they put a hold on all the officers because they don’t agree with the Republican administration? There’s a reason this has not been done this way for a couple hundred years ... this is doing great damage to our military.”

“I’ve been trying to work with you for nine months,” Mr Graham told the Alabama senator.

“Folks, if this keeps going, people are going to leave,” he told the chamber.

“There [are] some people that are waiting to be promoted, that if they don’t get promoted soon, they’re gonna be out of the military,” Mr Graham noted. “How does that help anybody if they’re qualified?”

“We have done the best that we can to honour the request of a fellow senator that these nominations be brought to the floor and voted on individually,” Ms Ernst said. “And I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honour their word. We have brought forward nearly 60 nominees. Every one of them [has] been denied.”

“We're impacting readiness, and we're definitely impacting morale – And that's readiness,” Mr Sullivan said. “My colleague’s saying, ‘Oh, don't worry, there's no problem, no readiness problems’. No offence, but that's just ridiculous and he knows it – We all know it.”

“I want the American people to know right now 376 promotions to one, two, three, and four-star generals and admirals are being held,” Mr Sullivan said. “It is estimated by the end of this year 89 per cent of all general officer positions in the United States military will be affected by the current holds from Senator Tuberville ... This is pretty much the entire officer corps. This is hugely disruptive to readiness.”

Calling the blockade, “a national security suicide mission,” Mr Sullivan said that “the idea that some of these officers are supposedly woke or desk jockeys, it’s ridiculous,” according to Politico.

“Hang in there,” Mr Sullivan said, addressing the officers affected by the blockade. “We’ll be coming here every night to try to get you confirmed.”

The Alaska senator said on several occasions that Mr Tuberville had previously committed to voting on individual nominees but the Alabamian continued to demand that the Pentagon end the policy before he would allow any confirmations.

“I have to respectfully disagree with my colleagues about the effect of my hold on readiness. My hold is not affecting readiness,” he claimed.

Mr Romney argued that the hold was “an abuse of the powers we have as senators”.

This comes after Gen Eric Smith was hospitalised on Sunday after reportedly suffering a heart attack during a jog, according to The New York Times.

The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Sen Jack Reed of Rhode Island, told Politico “One of the reasons I think contributed to his condition was he was doing two jobs at once”.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the press that “patience is wearing thin with Sen Tuberville on both sides of the aisle”.

“What happened with the Marine commandant just showed many people how dangerous what Tuberville is doing is,” he added.

In a statement to The Independent on Wednesday, Mr Tuberville’s Communications Director Steven Stafford said: “Coach is praying for a swift recovery for General Smith and he has gathered enough signatures on a cloture petition to force Senator Schumer to vote on confirming General Mahoney to be Assistant Commandant.”

On Thursday morning, Mr Tuberville told reporters that the criticism he faced was “a little character assassination at times” but that he remains firm on his blockade. He again rejected the notion that his actions are affecting military readiness.

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