The Senate is poised to confirm a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Wednesday as Democrats try to maneuver around holds placed on hundreds of nominations by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville over the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
Tuberville has been blocking the Senate from approving military nominations in groups, frustrating Democrats who had said they would not go through the time-consuming process of bringing up individual nominations for a vote.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reversed course on Wednesday and moved to force votes on three of the most senior nominees: Gen. CQ Brown to replace Gen. Mark Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Milley resigns on Sept. 30, as is required by law; Gen. Randy George to be Army Chief of Staff and Gen. Eric Smith, who is nominated to be commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tuberville did not object to the confirmation votes, saying he will maintain his holds but is fine with bringing up the nominations individually for roll call votes — a process that could take months and delay other priorities.
“Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head on,” Schumer said. “I want to make clear to my Republican colleagues — this cannot continue.”
Brown’s confirmation is expected Wednesday evening, and confirmation votes on Smith and George are expected this week.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that while the likely confirmation of the three nominees is positive news, “we should have never been in this position.”
“While good for these three officers, it doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold,” Kirby told reporters.
Tuberville said on Wednesday that he will continue to hold up the other nominations unless the Pentagon ends its policy of paying for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The Biden administration instituted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion and some states have limited or banned the procedure.
“Let’s do one at a time or change the policy back,” Tuberville said after Schumer put the three nominations up for a vote. “Let’s vote on it.”
In an effort to force Tuberville’s hand, Democrats had said previously that they would not put individual nominations on the floor, since it would take months to confirm them all individually. “There’s an old saying in the military, leave no one behind,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed said in July.
But in a frustrated speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said Wednesday he was left with no other choice.
“Senator Tuberville is using them as pawns,” Schumer said of the nominees.
The holds have frustrated members on both sides of the aisle, and it is still unclear how the larger standoff will be resolved. Schumer did not say if he will put additional nominations on the floor.
The monthslong holds have devolved into a convoluted procedural back and forth in recent days.
Tuberville claimed victory after Schumer’s move, even though the Pentagon policy remains unchanged.
“We called them out, and they blinked,” he told reporters of Schumer.
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