WASHINGTON – The House Foreign Affairs chairman, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, castigated Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville on Sunday for jeopardizing national security with his nine-month blockade of military promotions.
“This is paralyzing the Department of Defense,” the Texan said on CNN. “That is a national security problem and a national security issue. And I really wish he would reconsider this.”
The comments amount to some of the sternest condemnations from a fellow Republican. President Joe Biden and aides have condemned Tuberville, demanding he relent. The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force undertook a rare joint pressure blitz last week accusing the senator of undermining combat readiness as the promotion backlog grows.
Tuberville has been blocking promotions over a Pentagon policy to reimburse service members and their families who must travel to obtain an abortion. The Biden administration adopted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June 2022, paving the way for Texas and other states to ban or severely limit access to abortion.
As senior officers retired, three branches of the military – the Marines, Army and Navy – are no longer led by a Senate-confirmed officer, a first in American history. Hundreds of transfers and hand-offs of command have been stalled.
The chairman of the joint chiefs, Army Gen. Mark Milley, will retire this month and with Tuberville’s hold it’s unclear whether Biden’s pick to replace him, Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown, will get a confirmation vote.
So far more than 300 promotions have been stalled. By the end of the year, more than 600 officers will be awaiting promotions that require Senate approval. Approving promotions of military leaders is typically a routine, non-partisan exercise.
“I am concerned the senator does not appreciate the gravity of the situation,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chair of the Armed Services Committee, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “These positions cannot simply be filled by other officers – they can only be temporarily covered by their vice chiefs, who must also continue to cover their own jobs.”
Tuberville rejects assertions his holds have or will impact national security, pointing out that jobs are filled temporarily by lower ranked officers.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn is among the Republicans who have tried to blunt the fallout. He said last week that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could break the logjam by holding votes on the promotions one-by-one. Schumer, who’s called Tuberville’s tactics “abominable,” has rejected that approach because it could tie up Senate for months.
Few fellow Republicans have defended Tuberville, though Cornyn and others have echoed complaints about the policy he’s targeted.
“I don’t support putting a hold on military nominations. I don’t support that,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in early May, when he first publicly distanced himself from Tuberville’s blockade.
McCaul, the leading House GOP voice on foreign policy, made his comments on CNN’s State of the Union.
Like Cornyn, he argued that concerns about the Pentagon’s abortion reimbursement policy can be resolved by Congress in the defense bill.
“We’re working this issue out in the National Defense Authorization,” he said, adding, “To hold up the top brass from being promoted and lower brass, I think is paralyzing our Department of Defense.”
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, noting he’d been born in Cuba, said on CNN last week that “I would have never imagined one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting a communist and other autocratic regimes around the world.”
“It is just unprecedented to be attacking apolitical general officers and flag officers in this way,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. “It is taking our apolitical military… and eroding its foundations.”