Biden, Austin Making “No Effort” to End Tuberville’s Blockade of Pentagon Promotions

COMMENTARY Life

Biden, Austin Making “No Effort” to End Tuberville’s Blockade of Pentagon Promotions

Jun 22, 2023 6 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Robert B. Bluey

Vice President, Communications

Rob Bluey is Vice President for Communications and the Executive Editor for The Daily Signal.
U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) walks to the Senate chambers at the U.S. Capitol on June 1, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Tuberville is objecting to the Defense Department’s policy of providing three weeks of taxpayer-funded paid leave....for military personnel...seeking abortions.

Tuberville confirmed Thursday he’s heard nothing from Biden or the White House.

Even when Democrats have pressed military leaders for evidence of harm to readiness, they’ve come up empty. 

President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are making “no effort” to reach a resolution with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who is blocking the promotions of approximately 250 military generals and flag officers until the Pentagon changes its abortion policy. Current policy uses taxpayer funds to pay for certain expenses associated with service members’ abortions.

For the ninth time since March, the Alabama Republican stopped a Democrat attempt to approve one of Biden’s military promotions—this time for the U.S. Naval Academy superintendent.

“I will keep my hold until the Pentagon follows the law [or] Congress changes the law. That’s the way we do it here in the Senate,” Tuberville said Thursday.

Tuberville is objecting to the Defense Department’s policy of providing three weeks of taxpayer-funded paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for military personnel and dependents who are seeking abortions. An estimate from Rand Corp. predicts the number of abortions in the military eligible for taxpayer-covered expenses would skyrocket from 20 to more than 4,000 each year.

Democrats have ratcheted up their rhetoric this week, accusing Tuberville of politicizing the military and jeopardizing national security—claims they make without any evidence.

“Senators should not play politics—they should not play politics with our military assistance, with our military readiness, and with our military family,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

The accusations continued Thursday when Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., requested unanimous consent to promote Rear Adm. Yvette M. Davids to lead the U.S. Naval Academy.

“We don’t want the military involved in politics. We do everything we can to keep them insulated from the internal politics of the Congress,” Cardin said. “That’s exactly what my colleague is doing by this hold.”

Tuberville held his ground, as he’s done since March 8, because of the politically charged policy Austin implemented at the Defense Department in February.

“This is the ninth time that Democrats have come to the floor to try to break my hold on the Department of Defense’s nominees. This is the ninth time that I’ve come to the floor to keep my word,” Tuberville said. “Since the last time we did this, nothing has changed. And so, my hold will remain in place.”

Dating to last December, when Tuberville first warned Austin he would block promotions of military generals and flag officers over the abortion policy, the senator said he’s had just a single 10-minute phone call with the Pentagon chief.

“[Austin] made absolutely no effort to find a compromise in our situation,” Tuberville said.

Jean-Pierre was asked Wednesday why the White House has not worked out a compromise with the senator.

“I can’t speak to conversations. I have to talk to our Office of Leg [Legislative] Affairs. I do not know when the last time that they spoke to the senator,” Jean-Pierre said. “But what I do know is what he’s doing is putting our national security at risk, truly.”

Tuberville confirmed Thursday he’s heard nothing from Biden or the White House.

“I’ll tell you when the last time was—never. The White House has not reached out once in four months,” Tuberville said. “No one has contacted me; there has not been one conversation, no path forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hasn’t spoken to Tuberville in over two years, although he has resorted to attacking him by name repeatedly.

“I’ve never talked to him, and four days in a row on the Senate floor he started out with me calling me by my name and how bad a person I was,” Tuberville told Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts last month. “Finally, I went to the floor one day and just called him out.”

Roberts is one of dozens of conservative and pro-life leaders who have stood behind Tuberville. Last month, Heritage purchased billboards in Tuberville’s home state of Alabama to praise his leadership. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news outlet.)

In addition, thousands of active-duty military service members and veterans are showing their support for Tuberville. More than 3,000 signed a letter in May calling on the Pentagon to reverse its abortion policy.

Democrats could circumvent Tuberville’s hold by voting on each nominee individually. Doing so, however, would be a laborious process for senators who would rather approve the promotions as a group. 

Not all Republicans are siding with Tuberville. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pointedly said he doesn’t support blocking the appointments and promotions of military officers. Others in GOP leadership are attempting to find ways to move Tuberville, although he reiterated that his ultimate goal is rescinding the Pentagon’s abortion policy.

“A ‘show vote’ in committee is not good enough. We can do that all we want. It’s not going to make any difference,” Tuberville said. “An amendment that gets stripped out on the floor by Sen. Schumer is not good enough. What I have said from the beginning: Either follow the law or change it. Follow the law that we have made in this body or change the law.”

Tuberville also rejected the assertion he’s impeding military readiness, referencing a news report Wednesday that military leaders are finding ways to get the job done.

“Senior military leaders have already developed workarounds as the impasse remains,” Politico reported. “Gen. David Berger, the outgoing commandant of the Marine Corps, recently sent out invitations to a ‘relinquishment of office ceremony’ scheduled for July 10, allowing Gen. Eric Smith, Biden’s nominated replacement, to lead the Corps on a temporary basis.”

Retired military leaders have pointed to the Biden administration’s actions as a bigger impediment to readiness. Writing for The Federalist last month, retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin of the Family Research Council and retired Lt. Col. James J. Carafano of The Heritage Foundation faulted Biden and Austin:

The greatest threat to military readiness is the actions of a commander-in-chief who imposes unlawful policies and undermines the sanctity of civil-military relations that are the bedrock of well-functioning armed forces. He should be ashamed to put a political agenda ahead of the purpose and mission of the armed forces and the support and well-being of those that serve.

Even when Democrats have pressed military leaders for evidence of harm to readiness, they’ve come up empty. 

At an April 20 hearing, Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., asked U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Cmdr. John Aquilino about the consequences of Tuberville’s hold on readiness in the region. Aquilino responded, “Operationally … no impact, because Seventh Fleet commanders are not going anywhere until the proper replacement is in place.” 

Tuberville stated Thursday: “These jobs are being done right now. They’re not empty. Four months into this situation, that is obvious that people are doing the job. It is not affecting readiness. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.”

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal