DemDaily: Absent Leadership

July 12, 2023

For the first time in 164 years, the United States Marine Corps is operating without a US Senate-confirmed commandant -- due to the political posturing of one Republican Senator.

Usually a pro-forma process, confirmation of the Corps Commandant is just one of more than 250 general and flag officer nominations that are currently stalled in the Senate due to a hold led by Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville.

The former Auburn University football coach, elected to the US Senate in 2020 with the help of former President Donald Trump, has stirred controversy for his ultra-conservative rants on abortion, transgender rights and race.

In a May radio interview, when asked if he believes White nationalists should be allowed to serve in the military, Tuberville retorted that the Biden administration "call[s] them that. I call them Americans."

Tuberville is protesting the new Department of Defense reproductive health policy that covers certain abortion-related travel expenses for service members based in states with restrictive reproductive healthcare laws. He has vowed to exercise the hold until the Pentagon changes the policy or it is passed through legislation.

Military promotions are normally approved by the Senate in large blocs by voice vote or "unanimous consent."

Since late February, however, Tuberville has used a procedural tactic to stop the promotions of all nominees for general and admiral, stonewalling movement on O-7 ranks and above.

While a hold does not prevent the Senate from voting on nominations, it forces floor debate on each nominee individually, which could take months to complete.

“Holding up one nominee or even a short hold on a handful of nominees has been a way that Senators from time to time have exercised a little leverage...[but] these are holds that are broad and in Senator Tuberville’s case undermine our national security. That’s a kind of hell-bent on destruction that is one more sign of how broken this Congress has become,” said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D).

In response to an inquiry from Warren on the national security impact of Tuberville's hold, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote, "Delays in confirming our general and flag officers pose a clear risk to U.S. military readiness, particularly at this critical time...This indefinite hold harms America’s national security...The longer that this hold persists, the greater the risk the US military runs in every theater, every domain, and every service.”

"Never before has one Senator prevented the Department of Defense from managing its officer corps in this manner, and letting this hold continue would set a perilous precedent for our military, our security, and our country." - Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin

In May, seven former defense secretaries from both Democratic and Republican administrations wrote a letter to Senate leadership criticizing Tuberville's blanket hold on senior military promotions -- claiming the move is “harming military readiness and risks damaging US national security.”

In response, Tuberville said, “They were nominated, they weren’t elected. I was elected to represent the people of Alabama in this country. I’m a Senator. I can hold any confirmation I want until we get some kind of confirmation of why [they’re] doing this” -- referring to DOD's abortion policy.

Tuberville continues to rebuke pleas from military leaders, Democrats and members of his own party, to end the hold, insisting he will not change his mind. Absent an intervention from GOP leadership, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will have to make a decision soon on bringing up individual military nominations for vote -- one-by-one.

The Pentagon estimates Tuberville's hold could impact as many as 650 nominations by the end of the year.

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: AP, CNN, Politico, Military.com, The Hill, CBS

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