Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville on Tuesday dropped his nearly 10-month hold on hundreds of senior military promotions amid growing pressure from GOP and Democratic colleagues who asserted the move was endangering national security.
Tuberville’s decision to stall nearly all high-level Defense Department nominations since the start of the year stemmed from his objections to the Pentagon’s abortion access policies, which allowed for uncharged leave and travel stipends for troops forced to travel across state lines for abortion services because of local laws.
Tuberville said he is not dropping all of the holds, however, and intends to delay 11 four-star posts still pending in the Senate in continued protest of the abortion access policy.
But his announcement Tuesday allowed senators to advance more than 430 other senior defense posts that had been stalled for months.
The Alabama senator’s stance became national news and an ongoing headache for military leaders, many of whom have been forced to delay retirements and use interim appointees to man a host of leadership positions.
Tuberville said Tuesday he was forced to block the promotions to highlight “this bad Pentagon policy” and to “stand up for the taxpayers of this country.” But he also said his lengthy protest had achieved all it could at this point.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “We saw some success, but we didn’t get as much out of this as we wanted.”
As of Dec. 1, there were 445 senior military promotions that had been delayed by the move, including high-profile posts like the new head of U.S. Cyber Command, the new superintendent of the Naval Academy and the new director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Senate Democrats had been poised to vote on a rules change this month to force a breakthrough in the nominations standoff, and multiple Republican lawmakers had indicated they might support the move, given the complaints from military leaders. But Tuberville’s Tuesday announcement makes that move largely moot.
Senate Democrats will still need to go through time-consuming parliamentary moves to advance the remaining 11 senior officers. But that process is likely to take several days, not the several months of floor time that advancing hundreds of nominees would require.
Among the posts still held by Tuberville because of his abortion objections are the vice chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Space Force; the head of Northern Command; the commanders of Pacific Air Forces and the U.S. Pacific Fleet; and the head of U.S. Cyber Command.
The nominees to lead the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program, head Air Combat Command and act as Air Component Commander for Indo-Pacific Command also remain stalled.
Tuberville’s move does not preclude other senators from filing their own hold on other defense nominees, but no other lawmakers signaled they would oppose large groups of officers from advancing.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the end of most of Tuberville’s holds means “we can finally move forward and give these officers the promotions they deserve.”
“I hope no one does this again,” he said. “I hope they learn the lessons. [Tuberville] held out for many, many months, caused damage to our national security, caused discombobulation for so many military families … and didn’t get anything that he wants. It’s a risky strategy that will not succeed.”
Defense leaders warned that even with the promotions finalized, actually getting personnel into their new posts will still take some time.
“It’s not just flicking a switch and suddenly everyone moves into these new positions,” said Defense Department spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. “You have to consider things like when people can move, where the people moving out of the positions are going. All that has to be carefully orchestrated, and done in a way that enables us to continue to conduct the operations without having significant impact not only on the mission, but also on the individual family members.”
Military Times reporter Meghann Myers contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.