‘A clog in the pipeline’: Military spouses fed up with Tuberville’s hold on military promotions

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville is blocking military promotions to protest a Defense Department reproductive health policy.

By Carson Frame, Texas Public RadioAugust 17, 2023 9:15 am, , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

Since February, Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville has held up military nominations and promotions to pressure the Biden administration to reverse a controversial policy.

It allows service members to take leave to obtain abortions and reimburses them for travel expenses. The hold on promotions has left hundreds of service members with their careers — and lives — in limbo.

For the first time in the history of the Department of Defense, three of the military branches are without leaders. Hundreds of other nominations — promoting people to high-level military jobs — are being held up in the Senate.

Such nominations are normally submitted in batches to the Senate for consideration and approval. But that process requires unanimous consent, which means a single legislator can block it.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin criticized the hold as an “unprecedented” move that hurts national security.

“It is unnecessary and it is unsafe,” he said at an August retirement ceremony for outgoing Navy chief Adm. Mike Gilday, whose permanent replacement is affected by the hold. “This sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness. It’s hindering our ability to retain our very best officers. And it is upending the lives of far too many American military families.”

The hold came after the Biden administration announced a new reproductive health policy affecting the military. Now that several states have outlawed or restricted abortion, the policy gives servicemembers time and money to travel for the procedure.

But Tuberville and his supporters say the Biden administration overreached. They say the abortion travel policy is illegal and Congress should have a chance to vote on it.

On the Senate floor, Republican Mike Lee of Utah defended Tuberville in July.

“The President of the United States has the audacity to lay at his [Tuberville’s] feet any suffering, any misfortune, any unhappiness among these families, any military readiness [issues] that may flow from this,” Lee said, “When he knows that, in order to score cheap political points with the abortion lobby, he’s willing to bring these things on.”

A group of military spouses called the Secure Families Initiative says the gridlock over promotions is straining their families and hurting operations.

“Our military service members and their families are absolutely being used as a bargaining chip here,” said Bana Miller, an Army wife and board member of the Secure Families Initiative. “Leadership is not in place. Some senior folks are being asked to delay retirement until their replacements get confirmed. More junior military personnel can’t necessarily advance because there’s now a clog in the promotions pipeline, so to speak. It affects morale for every single service member and their families.”

As a result of the hold, some service members haven’t been given orders for their next duty station — making it harder for their spouses to maintain jobs and enroll their kids in school.

“Some families are stuck paying out of pocket for those moves while they await orders,” Miller added. “That can be a huge financial burden.”

Supporters of the hold point out that military positions aren’t going unfilled. The Pentagon has the authority to appoint acting leaders if an official promotion is delayed. But according to Marine Corps spouse Brandi Jones, the organizing director of the Secure Families Initiative, that means military personnel are being asked to do more advanced jobs without an increase in pay or rank.

“An example would be someone who’s on an international call — and everyone else from every country has the rank of general, except for that member of the military for the U.S.,” she explained. “So they’re being placed in the acting role, but not really being provided with all their capabilities, or even an aid.”

There is no clear end to the impasse. Senate leaders could theoretically get around the hold by scheduling separate votes on promotions. But Texas Democratic House member Joaquin Castro discounts that idea.

“It would take so much time to go through and vote on each of the promotions that you would wipe out the time needed for just about every other kind of legislative vote for the remainder of the year, at least,” he said.

As of Aug. 7, 2023, more than 300 officers general and flag officer nominations have been held up by the Senate. If the holds don’t lift by the end of the year, nearly 650 of the more than 850 general and flag officer nominations will be affected, according to a Defense official.

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