U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on November 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on November 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Hundreds of promotions approved after Tuberville drops hold

Senate swiftly approves 425 officers’ advancement, but 11 four-star jobs remain in limbo.

Updated: 9:58 p.m.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville released most of his holds on officer promotions on Tuesday, largely ending a 9-month protest that failed to reduce troops’ access to abortion services but left the U.S. military increasingly shorthanded at its most senior jobs. Within hours, the Senate approved the promotion of 425 senior officers long held up by the Alabama Republican. 

But Tuberville maintained his hold on four-star nominations. A Pentagon spokesman said that means Tuberville will further delay filling 11 of the top posts in the military: the vice chiefs of the service branches; the commanders of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, Air Combat Command, and the commanders of U.S. Northern Command, Cyber Command, and Space Command.

Still, Pentagon leaders were “encouraged by the news,” Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday. “We'll continue to stay engaged with Senator Tuberville and the Senate directly to urge that all the holds on all our general flag officer nominations be lifted.”

The Defense Department will “work through” any complications as some people move up into three-star jobs and other positions, Ryder said.

“It's not just flicking a switch and suddenly everyone moves into these new positions. You have to consider things like when people can move, where the people that are moving out of the positions are going and so 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,” he said.

Since Tuberville levied his blanket hold on Senate-approved promotions in February, hundreds of senior officers had seen their advancements delayed, Ryder said. Many were unable to move on their next assigned post, leaving leadership positions empty or filled by temps around the globe. The senator's partial lift comes after months of warnings by Pentagon leaders that his actions were reducing readiness and hurting military families, and of growing frustration from his Republican colleagues.

“After 10 months of undermining military readiness and the morale of our troops, Senator Tuberville of Alabama has finally lifted his politically motivated hold on hundreds of military nominations,” President Joe Biden said in a statement noting the confirmation of 425 officers’ promotions. “These confirmations are long overdue, and should never have been held up in the first place. Our service members are the backbone of our country and deserve to receive the pay and promotions they have earned. In the end, this was all pointless. Senator Tuberville, and the Republicans who stood with him, needlessly hurt hundreds of servicemembers and military families and threatened our national security – all to push a partisan agenda. I hope no one forgets what he did.”

The GOP senator placed his hold about eight months after the Supreme Court eliminated U.S. women’s right to an abortion. Within weeks of the court’s July 2022 decision, several states had moved to limit access to reproductive health care, including ones that were home to nearly a quarter-million troops, including some 40 percent of female servicemembers. By November, DOD leaders had evidence that the new abortion restrictions were hurting recruiting and retention. They instituted several measures to preserve troops’ access to reproductive care, including paying for troops to travel from states that have functionally outlawed abortion.

In February, Tuberville declared that he would take action to press the Pentagon to end this policy: he imposed a “senatorial hold” on every military promotion and defense appointment that requires Senate approval. By mid-year, Tuberville’s hold had delayed several hundred promotions—and left the Marine Corps without a confirmed commandant for the first time in more than a century. Within weeks, the Army, Navy, and Air Force were also without confirmed leaders.

Though Gen. Eric Smith was confirmed as commandant of the Marine Corps in September, the nominee to fill his previous job as assistant commandant was not approved at that time. Smith was performing both of the two top jobs in the Marine Corps when he had a heart attack in late October. 

After Smith’s hospitalization, Congress confirmed Adm. Lisa Franchetti to lead the Navy, Gen. David Allvin to lead the Air Force, and Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to add a star to his uniform and take over the job of assistant commandant. Gen. Randy George had been confirmed as chief of the Army in September when Smith was made official commandant. 

“I am glad that hundreds of our nation’s finest military leaders will finally receive their hard-won, merit-based promotions. They, and their families, have shown us what grace and grit look like in the face of hardship. Senator Tuberville’s actions have been an affront to the United States military and the Senate. He has jeopardized our national security and abused the rights afforded to all senators. No Senator should ever attempt to advance their own partisan agenda on the backs of our troops like this again,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a Tuesday statement. 

Sen. Mark Kelly, a retired Navy captain who had pressed Tuberville to end his hold, was more succinct.

“About damn time,” the Arizona Democrat said in a statement.

Jennifer Hlad contributed to this report.

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