Tuberville’s military blocks impacting Middle East appointments

October 9, 2023

Despite Israel’s declared war on Hamas, Sen. Tommy Tuberville is continuing his blockade on military confirmations, impacting a number of senior appointments in the Middle East. 

Tuberville has so far blocked more than 300 nominations amid his demand that the government stop paying for service members to travel across state lines to obtain abortions. The number could grow to 650 by the end of December as Tuberville has remained unwilling to budge from his ongoing blockade of military promotions—despite even a growing number of Republicans voicing their disapproval of his actions.

A spokesperson for Tuberville on Monday said the Senator remains unmoved in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel Saturday. The death toll in Gaza had reached close to 1,300 as of Monday midday including at least nine Americans. The number was expected to continue rising.

Tuberville’s blockade means that the current commander of the Navy’s 5th fleet—responsible for U.S. naval operations in the Middle East region including the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman—is still awaiting promotion to deputy commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTOM), which oversees U.S. forces and operations in the region.

Further, the deputy commanders of both 5th fleet and U.S. Air Forces Central are stuck in Tuberville’s hold, as is CENTCOM’s deputy director of strategy, plans and policy.

One Senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee—in this case, Tuberville—is able to hold up potentially countless military promotions through a Senate procedure called “unanimous consent.”

Last month, though, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) enacted a workaround to Tuberville’s blocks, filing cloture to advance the nominations of Gen. Eric Smith to be Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Randy George to be Army Chief of Staff and Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All received overwhelming bipartisan votes of approval in the full Senate and were promoted to their nominated positions.

Schumer and top Democrats had held off holding individual votes on top military brass amid worries it would start a slippery slope on such nominations, which are usually done as a whole grouping, or “en bloc,” and are noncontroversial.

While several Senate Democrats have called for some one-off votes for top nominations, at the same time they’ve voiced skepticism against its being a practical solution to the entire situation. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois has noted that individual votes on military nominations could potentially take up “over 100 days on the Senate calendar.”

And Schumer has noted, “If everyone objected to everything to get leverage for their pet priorities, it will grind this body to a halt.”

Pentagon leadership roles have had to be significantly reshuffled because of Tuberville’s hold. Many senior military officers are performing two jobs as they await promotion, and some key positions are being held by more junior officers because a more senior officer has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Gen. Smith, who’d been one of those working two jobs before his promotion, has warned that the situation is “unsustainable.” 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has called Tuberville’s actions “unprecedented,” “unnecessary” and “unsafe.”

PHOTO: U.S. Bomber Task Force executes mission in undisclosed Middle East location, 2021

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