Since February, Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville has blocked the unanimous consent request anytime the chamber tries to confirm pending military promotions. As of Friday morning, 221 general or flag officer nominations were waiting for Senate approval.
Tuberville is blocking the typically mundane Senate action over his objections to a policy memo issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in February. The policy allows service members to take administrative leave and be reimbursed for travel costs if they need to travel to receive non-covered reproductive health care, including abortions.
The policy does not cover the medication or procedure, but Tuberville says it equates to taxpayer-funded abortions.
"I'll drop my holds as soon as Secretary Austin suspends the memo. The burden is not on me to undo the policy, this illegal policy. The burden is on the Biden administration to follow the law," said Tuberville.
In a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sec. Austin said the delayed promotions will have a cascading impact on military readiness. He noted the openings will require some service members to juggle the responsibilities of multiple positions.
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Austin also explained that military promotions work on a cycle, so delaying this cycle also impacts the next group. And uncertainty over the future could make some service members decide to leave military life altogether.
Beyond concerns about military readiness, Sen. Tim Kaine, a fellow member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the delay also impacts service members' families.
"They've got kids in school, and they may have to move across the country and find a new school. I mean, these are not just robots. They're human beings with families and needs, and they need to know some certainty," said Kaine.
Democrats have been increasingly critical of Tuberville's position, saying he's holding service members hostage for a policy they have nothing to do with. They argue that this conversation should happen during the annual debate on the National Defense Authorization Act.
While Tuberville is the face of this unprecedented hold on military promotions, his effort has been supported by fellow Republicans, including Sens. Roger Marshall and Mike Lee.
Tuberville and others supporting his effort say these military promotions could be approved one by one through regular Senate procedure. But a Senate aide told Scripps News that with 221 pending nominations, doing that would take about four months and leave no time for any other Senate business.
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