Amid a violent crisis in Israel and Palestine, Alabama football coach turned US Senator Tommy Tuberville will continue his monthslong blockade against the promotion of hundreds of American military officials in protest of Pentagon policy to reimburse service members’ travel expenses for abortion care.
The Republican senator has single-handedly blocked the promotion of hundreds of military officials since March, potentially leaving the US and its allies and other nations vulnerable without leadership, according to warnings from senior military officials, elected leaders and the White House.
Mr Tuberville’s protest has put on hold at least 300 military nominees, including officers who would command forces in the Middle East, while thrusting international security issues into his anti-abortion crusade.
“The Pentagon clearly thinks forcing taxpayers to facilitate abortion is more important than confirming their top nominees without a vote,” Mr Tuberville’s spokesperson Steve Stafford said in a statement to NBC News.
“They could end this situation TODAY by dropping their illegal and immoral policy and get everyone confirmed rapidly, but they refuse,” he added. “If the Biden administration wants their nominees confirmed then Senate Democrats can do what Coach just did in September and file a cloture petition to force a vote.”
Mr Tuberville has argued that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could hold individual votes to confirm nominees, but the drastically longer process would hamstring other congressional business, critics have warned.
“The severity of the crisis in Israel underscores the foolishness of Senator Tuberville’s blockade,” Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed said in a statement to Politico, which first reported the Alabama senator’s latest commitment to the block.
“The United States needs seamless military leadership in place to handle dangerous situations like this and Senator Tuberville is denying it,” he added. “This is no time for petty political theater, and I again urge Republican colleagues to help actively end Senator Tuberville’s damaging blockade … The time for talking is over.”
Last month, secretaries of the US Army, Navy and Air Force accused Mr Tuberville’s action of “actively” eroding “the foundation of America’s enduring military advantage” with a misguided protest.
The US Navy still does not have a chief of naval operations in the Middle East, and the Senate is on recess this week, further extending a monthslong blockade.
Last month, the Senate finally confirmed its first military nominees in months, including US Air Force Gen Charles Q Brown Jr as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military official, replacing outgoing chair Gen Mark Milley. His confirmation arrived four months after President Joe Biden nominated him.
Among the nominees on a long list of delayed promotions are Admiral Lisa Franchetti, Mr Biden’s nominee to be the Navy’s top officer, and Gen David Allvin, nominated to lead the Air Force. Both are performing those roles on an acting basis.
Rear Admiral Gerorg Wikoff, nominated to lead a naval fleet in the Middle East, also is on hold, while the 5th Fleet’s current commander, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, is waiting on his promotion as deputy commander of US Central Command. Mr Tuberville’s block is holding both of those appointments, among hundreds of others.
Meanwhile, the Senate has also not yet confirmed Mr Biden’s appointment of Jacob Lew as US ambassador to Israel, a position that senators have urged to fill as an urgent first matter of business when they return next week, following ideologically driven “roadblocks” from Republican senators JD Vance and Rand Paul, among others, that have left key diplomatic vacancies in an apparent attempt to undermine the Biden administration.
“We need an Ambassador to Israel and a Chief of Naval Operations,” Democratic US Senator Brian Schatz said. “This is a serious situation that requires us to set aside our differences and make sure we have our full complement of leaders in defense and foreign policy.”
“For the US to be without an ambassador at this critical moment would be political malpractice by the Senate,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said in a statement. “Jack Lew is highly qualified and should be confirmed this coming week.”
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