U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on hundreds of military nominees remained in place while the Senate leaves town for its August recess. (Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden directly criticized Sen. Tommy Tuberville Friday in a statement over the Alabama senator’s months long blockade of high-ranking military nominees in protest of the administration’s abortion policy for service members.
“What Senator Tuberville is doing is not only wrong — it is dangerous,” Biden said in a statement. “In this moment of rapidly evolving security environments and intense competition, he is risking our ability to ensure that the United States Armed Forces remain the greatest fighting force in the history of the world. And his Republican colleagues in the Senate know it.”
Tuberville has been holding up the nominations of hundreds of military leaders and flag officers in response to a Department of Defense policy that provides travel compensation and leave for armed services members who are stationed in states where abortion is severely restricted or banned.
Biden issued his comments Friday upon announcing his nominations of several more leading military officials, including the next chief of Naval Operations.
As of mid-July, the senator had blocked 256 nominees from receiving votes on the Senate floor, according to the Pentagon. That’s 31% of the military’s general and flag office population, the Defense press office estimated.
On Wednesday, Tuberville blocked a 12th attempt by Democratic senators to vote on promotions, according to his office.
“This is a taxpayer-funded abortion that nobody, I mean, nobody voted for in this building or the other end of the building. Democrats say my hold is unprecedented. Well, I will say this. Their abortion policy is unprecedented. We are here to make the law, not the Pentagon,” Tuberville said on the floor.
Schumer faces the issue of scarce floor time. To circumvent Tuberville’s hold the majority leader would need to bring nominees to the floor individually, which could all but halt the Senate.
Tuberville wants a standalone vote on the policy — rather than an amendment in the massive annual defense authorization bill pending in the Senate.
“If he wants to have an affirmative vote we would not object to it,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told journalists Wednesday at the Senate Democrats’ weekly press conference.
When informed by reporters Wednesday that Schumer would be open to a vote on the policy, Tuberville replied “Oh really? Well, I’ll have to talk to him.”
In a follow-up question, a reporter asked if the senator has had a direct conversation with Schumer about the issue.
“I’ve never talked to him in two-and-a-half years,” Tuberville responded.
Nominees in a holding pattern
Biden’s nominees on Friday included Admiral Lisa Franchetti to be Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral James Kilby for the position of Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Samuel Paparo for Commander of Indo-Pacific Command and Vice Admiral Stephen “Web” Koehler for Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The nominee to become the new head of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Rear Admiral Yvette Davids, is also caught up in Tuberville’s holds. Both Franchetti and Davids would be the first women to serve in the Navy’s leadership positions.
The U.S. Marine Corps has been without a top leader since Commandant Gen. David Berger retired on July 10.
The current Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, is set to retire later this year.
The Pentagon has warned as many as 650 positions could be vacant by year’s end if the holds continue.
“The effects are absolutely critical in terms of the impact on the force,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island on March 28.
DoD’s embattled policy
The Biden administration announced the policy in February to support service members’ travel for “non-covered reproductive health care.”
Just over a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal protections for abortion, triggering a patchwork of state-by-state regulations, where in some abortion remains legal and in others such services are effectively banned.
Roughly 80,000 female service members are stationed in locations either without access or severely restricted access to non-covered reproductive health care, like elective abortions, according to a September 2022 report published by the think tank RAND.
“Almost 1 in 5 of our troops are women, and they don’t get a chance to choose where they are stationed,” Austin testified in March.
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