Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a rare offensive, spent some time during Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services hearing to publicly call out Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of senior military promotions, saying the delays are hurting military readiness and will leave the military poorly positioned should it enter into a global conflict.
“There are a number of things happening globally that indicate that we could be in a contest on any one given day,” Austin said during the hearing. “Not approving the recommendations for promotions actually creates a ripple effect through the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be. The effects are cumulative and it will affect families. It will affect kids going to schools because they won’t be able to change their duty station. It’s a powerful effect and will have an impact on our readiness.”
Tuberville has blocked at least 160 promotions over the military’s policy that allows troops to be reimbursed for travel and granted leave to receive reproductive health care, including abortions. Tuberville argued that the new policy allows for taxpayer money to be spent on abortions.
“I want to be clear on this: My hold has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision to the access of abortion,” Tuberville said. “This is about not forcing the taxpayers of this country to fund abortions.”
But the policy specifically doesn’t pay for abortions, only travel expenses for troops stationed in areas, such as Alabama, where all abortion services are illegal, to travel to neighboring states to receive legally provided care.
Austin said the policy is “on solid legal ground,” and said it provides some 80,000 female troops with access to care that they should have the option to receive but sometimes don’t because of where they are stationed, which is out of their control.
Regardless, Tuberville’s blockade of the promotions – a position that other Republicans on the Armed Services Committee have not joined – comes at the worst possible time. Hundreds of top-level military leaders have retired or are planning to retire in the coming few months. The Pentagon said more than 650 general and flag officers will require Senate confirmation soon, including at least 80 three- or four-star generals or admirals.
Armed Services chair Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) cautioned that, “If we cannot resolve the situation, we will be, in many respects, leaderless at a time of great conflict.”
Austin also spoke privately with Tuberville recently in hopes of moving him away from the blockade. Tuberville does not appear ready to budge.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, during a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, criticized Tuberville and said his block of military promotions over a political issue risks politicizing a process that has until now remained above the political fray.
“If every single one of us objected to the promotion of military personnel whenever we feel passionately or strongly about an issue, our military would simply grind to a halt,” Schumer said. “This level of obstruction—of routine military promotions—is a reckless departure from Senate norm; none of us want to live in a world where military appointments get routinely politicized and that’s just what the Senator from Alabama is doing.”