Schumer says McConnell must ‘put the pressure’ on Tuberville to drop military promotions blockade

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Top Senate Democrats said Tuesday the onus is on Republican leaders to intervene over Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on hundreds of military promotions that continue to languish without Senate approval.

The former college-football coach has for months prevented the chamber from conducting more than 250 unanimous confirmations of Pentagon promotions over his opposition to the Defense Department’s paying for out-of-state travel to get abortions.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said it was time for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and other top Republicans to get involved.  

“It’s up to them,” Mr. Schumer said. “They have to put the pressure on [Mr. Tuberville] to back off.”

Mr. Schumer ruled out the possibility of advancing promotions on an individual basis — including more high-profile military leaders — with recorded votes, a process that would eat up large chunks of floor time with the chamber’s arcane procedural rules.

“The responsibility is on Sen. McConnell, Sen. Thune and the Republican Caucus to dissuade Tuberville from doing this thing, which is wrecking our national security in a very real way, and every week it gets worse,” he said.

For their part, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Thune and a growing number of other Republican senators say they do not support Mr. Tuberville’s blockade, citing the national security concerns.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, have suggested Democrats relish the political fight in the wake of President Biden spotlighting the issue on the campaign trail.  

Mr. Tuberville has denied his position impedes U.S. military readiness and has shown no sign of letting up. His protest resulted in the Marine Corps on Tuesday being absent a confirmed leader for the first time in 164 years.  

Mr. Tuberville blocked an attempt Monday by Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, to confirm Gen. Eric Smith as the permanent replacement of Gen. David Berger, who retired that day, as Marine Corps Commandant.

Gen. Smith will serve as acting commandant in the meantime, but that status significantly curtails his powers over the Corps.

“If the Democrats are so worried about Gen. Smith being an acting official, then let’s vote,” Mr. Tuberville said. “I keep asking for that. Let’s vote and clear this up.”

Mr. Reed, citing estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said it would take approximately 668 hours to confirm the pending military nominations. That equates to 84 consecutive 8-hour days without weekends, and while ignoring other business Congress hopes to complete before August recess, such as passing budget bills and the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

“So ‘just vote’ is not an answer,” Mr. Reed said. “This is not a feasible solution to this issue.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court undoing the federal constitutional right to abortion and letting states regulate or ban it, the Pentagon instituted a policy that provides financial reimbursement and time off for female service members who are forced to travel out of state for abortions.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown, nominated by Mr. Biden to replace outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, testified to senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that the effects of Mr. Tuberville’s block will be felt throughout the ranks.

“There’s aspects of readiness, and the transition in leadership for our young service members to know who is in the position of leadership is qualified [and] has the experience to be there,” Gen. Brown told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“It has an impact not just for the senior officers, but all their staff, and all those below them,” he said.

– Benjamin Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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