Hundreds of military promotions have been blocked due to the actions of a single Republican lawmaker. Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama has delayed promotions since February in protest of a Defense Department policy that reimburses service members and their families for travel expenses related to abortion care.
On Sunday, Texas Republican and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul, called Tuberville’s actions a “national security problem”
“The idea that one man in the Senate can hold this up for months … is paralyzing the Department of Defense,” McCaul said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: So how have these delays and promotions affected service members and their families? Can you give us a sense of that first?
Thomas Novelly: Absolutely. And I appreciate the question, because when we talk about this being a national security issue, we sometimes forget to explain just how it affects people in human terms.
So the most human way that this can be described is imagine that you got a job and that you were waiting to move to a new city and start that job, but you’re left in unconditional limbo. It’s like your start date just keeps getting extended and extended and extended. This causes a whole variety of issues. This causes financial problems for military families who are waiting, you know, or maybe expecting that pay raise that comes with that promotion, for example.
And overall, what it also creates is just a logistical problem of having somebody do a job that they haven’t been confirmed or promoted to do yet, and they’re left in this limbo where they might have to try to take on some of these responsibilities but they don’t have the legal requirements, sometimes these officers, to make important decisions and make certain policy choices. And this is all being left in limbo because of one senator.
Well, without getting too deep into the political weeds, how is it procedurally that one senator, as you said, is able to gum up the works like this?
So he’s using a procedural tactic that’s called a hold. And typically with general and flag officers, it’s confirmed in a batch voice vote. But by holding up these batch voice votes, what this would require, it would require the chamber to take individual roll call votes on each nominee.
So imagine being able to do, say, like 100 at a time to then maybe having to take a 100 or 200 or 300 individual votes when time is already precious in Washington, D.C., to move on to other initiatives.
So the fact that one man is holding out is causing the whole headache.
Well, as as we heard Rep. McCaul say, he believes that this is a national security problem. He’s not the only voice who has said that. How so? Can you give some concrete examples of the ways in which this may affect American military readiness?
Absolutely. So I’m here at the Air and Space Force Association’s conference in National Harbor, Maryland. And yesterday, the secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, gave a keynote address and he called out the senator’s actions directly and talked about how this was harming readiness because these officers who have earned these promotions can’t go to their next duty station to start making those decisions – having the legal framework and title and authority to be able to make some very important strategic decisions at these positions.
But what I appreciated, too, was that he made sure and made clear that this is a human issue for military families who find themselves frustrated that their loved one who has worked hard to earn a promotion is now being caught in limbo.
And ultimately, the tone with all of this is that military families and military officers, what is typically a non-controversial, nonpolitical role, has now been politicized and they feel like they’ve been used as a bargaining chip in a larger political debate.
We have just a little time left, Thomas, but I did want to ask, what are some of the possibilities for resolution here?
That is the biggest looming question at this moment.
Yesterday, during a roundtable with reporters, the secretary of the Air Force was asked a very similar question to that. And he responded, you know, “how does this get resolved? The senator drops the holds.” That’s honestly what it’s come down to at this point.
It doesn’t seem like the Pentagon is going to back away from the travel policy that the senator is fighting against. So we truly are left in this standoff at the moment where the uncertainty is really weighing heavy on the military and some of the family members that are affected by it, too.