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Senate Confirms Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sidestepping Tuberville Blockade

Senate Confirms Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sidestepping Tuberville Blockade


The Senate confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. of the Air Force on Wednesday as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, circumventing Senator Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of Pentagon promotions.

The vote was 83 to 11, and was expected to be followed by confirmations of the Marine Corps and Army chiefs, which also have been held up for months by Mr. Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, over the Defense Department’s abortion-access policies.

General Brown is set to succeed Army Gen. Mark A. Milley when he steps down as Joint Chiefs chairman at the end of the month.

The Democratic majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, worked around Mr. Tuberville’s roadblock by bringing up each individual nomination for a full Senate vote. But hundreds more promotions remain in limbo over objections by Mr. Tuberville.

Mr. Schumer had been reluctant to force votes on individual nominees for fear of being seen as capitulating to Mr. Tuberville, whose tactics he has likened to hostage taking. The Alabama senator has been blocking a series of promotions of senior generals and admirals in an effort to force the Pentagon to reverse a policy, implemented after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, of giving time off and reimbursing service members who were required to travel to obtain abortion or fertility services.

“The Senate will overwhelmingly vote to confirm them, and these three honorable men will finally be able to assume their positions,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor. “And the abortion policy that Senator Tuberville abhors will remain in place. Senator Tuberville will have accomplished nothing.”

While Mr. Tuberville said he welcomed their quick approvals, he added he would not relent in his push to do away with the abortion access policy. He was among 11 G.O.P. senators who voted against General Brown’s nomination, despite having indicated to reporters in recent months that he would support it.

“They finally figured out I wasn’t going to give in. I’m still not,” Mr. Tuberville told reporters on Wednesday. “They’ve got to do the right thing and move the policy back.”

The White House praised the action but criticized Mr. Tuberville for refusing to back down.

Mr. Schumer’s move, said John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, was good for the three generals, their military branches and the Defense Department overall, but 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.”

In March, the Pentagon enacted a policy providing time off and travel reimbursement to service members needing to go out of state to obtain an abortion or other forms of reproductive health services, in an effort to give troops equal access to such care regardless of where they are stationed.Mr. Tuberville, who had warned earlier that he would protest the policy change if it were enacted, has dug in since, refusing to allow nominations to advance even when leaders of his own party publicly disavowed his efforts as dangerous for military readiness. Instead, he has demanded repeatedly that the Pentagon revoke its policy unless Congress passes a law explicitly codifying it, and he dared Mr. Schumer to use cumbersome procedural maneuvers if he wants to get around his objections.

Before Mr. Tuberville’s protest, the Senate regularly approved senior military promotions in large blocks without controversy, a practice established to save precious floor hours. While Mr. Schumer has had the power to force votes on each individual promotion, he has resisted because doing so for the hundreds that are pending would have consumed the Senate’s attention for weeks. He also feared it might encourage other senators to employ similar tactics to protest federal policies in the future.

Mr. Schumer changed his mind on Wednesday after Mr. Tuberville threatened to go around his own blockade and demand that the Senate hold a vote on the nomination of General Smith, the first of the three newly confirmed chiefs to have appeared for a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That would have allowed Mr. Tuberville to blunt accusations that he has put national security at risk by leaving the top ranks of the military without permanent, fully empowered leaders.

Mr. Schumer ridiculed Mr. Tuberville’s latest gambit on the floor Wednesday, accusing the Alabama senator of being underhanded and “essentially trying to make himself the gatekeeper of which officers are promoted and who sits and waits.”

“He’s desperate to shift the responsibility onto others,” Mr. Schumer said. “The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the senior senator from Alabama.”

Mr. Tuberville accused Mr. Schumer in turn of having mismanaged the situation and of underestimating his resolve.

“This hold is not affecting readiness,” Mr. Tuberville said. “If Democrats want to complain, they should look in the mirror. I don’t control the floor; the Democrats do.”

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Schumer would attempt to continue holding such votes on pending high-profile military promotions. The Armed Services Committee is expected to recommend Admiral Lisa M. Franchetti to the full Senate for confirmation as the next chief of naval operations soon, and in the coming weeks, the panel is expected to consider the nomination of Gen. David Allvin to serve as the Air Force’s new chief of staff.

Mr. Kirby noted that doing so for every pending promotion could take as much as 700 hours, adding, “That’s not only unrealistic; it’s dangerous for our national security.”

Erica L. Green contributed reporting.


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