POLITICO (“Senate confirms Army and Marine chiefs, bucking Tuberville logjam“):
The Senate overwhelmingly approved two four-star generals to lead the Army and Marine Corps Thursday, as members made a small dent in Sen. Tommy Tuberville‘s blockade of senior Pentagon nominees.
Gen. Eric Smith’s successful 96-0 confirmation vote to be the next Marine commandant followed Gen. Randy George’s approval as Army chief of staff. A day earlier, the Senate cleared Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown to be the next Joint Chiefs chair.
But the trio of confirmations does not mean Democrats are declaring victory. With 300 generals and admirals at the upper rungs of the armed forces still stranded, senators still have to find a way to maneuver around the Alabama Republican’s promotions hold, which is still in effect, in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy. Lawmakers have pledged to keep up public pressure on Tuberville to change course.
The showdown has also ensnared the nominees for Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Allvin; the chief of naval operations, Adm. Lisa Franchetti; the head of the Missile Defense Agency, Maj. Gen. Heath Collins; and the nominee for the Pentagon’s top policy post, Derek Chollet.
Smith was the Marine Corps’ No. 2 officer and has commanded at every level, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a general, he led Marine Corps’ forces in U.S. Southern Command, as well as Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
George was the Army’s vice chief of staff and before that was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s senior military aide. He is an infantry officer who served in the 101st Airborne Division and deployed in support of the Gulf War.
George was confirmed 96-1, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) casting the sole “no” vote.
President Joe Biden nominated both generals in the spring and they each stepped into their service’s top role on an acting basis during the summer, when their predecessors retired.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for months has refused to hold standalone votes on military nominees to get around Tuberville’s hold, but reversed course Wednesday and agreed to hold votes on the three top picks after Tuberville forced Democrats’ hand by planning to force a vote on Smith.
Questions are swirling about Democrats’ strategy for getting the rest confirmed, but Schumer was tight-lipped, telling reporters only “You’ll see.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the onus is on Republicans to get Tuberville to relent.
While Tuberville has insisted for months he’s felt no pressure from Democrats or his own party, Democrats cast his move to advance a vote for Smith as him bowing to Republican critics, and said they seized the chance to advance all three officers.
“But there are still 300 military officers in limbo, and that’s detrimental to the United States,” Reed said. “There are so many other people like Gen. George who are suffering and their families are too … It’s solely forced by [Tuberville’s] desire to make [military] officers tokens in political battles — and it’s wrong, and we’re going to push and push and push.”
While Reed’s point is absolutely right in the main, it’s wrong in the particular. Because George and Smith are simply fleeting up from the deputy to the main job, there’s pretty minimal family impact. Smith will get to move into the Commandant’s mansion at 8th and I, so the timing for that is a little less than convenient. But I’m pretty sure his kids are out of school at this point.
My understanding is that Franchetti, who was nominated much more recently than the others, is still in committee. I expect she’ll be confirmed relatively soon. I have no idea where the other high-level nominees stand. Meanwhile, the 300-odd lower-ranking officers and their families are very much in limbo.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) called the remaining vacancies “untenable” and noted that advancing the officers will leave three new senior vacancies.
“We’re taking three steps forward and three steps backward,” said Duckworth, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “These are three very important jobs but there are 300 other jobs that are also important to our national security.”
Despite the mild irony that she placed an even wider hold three years ago—albeit for a much more discrete purpose directly tied to military promotions—she’s right. And it may be more problematic in those cases, since it’s less likely that the successor happens to be one rung down the ladder in the same office.
More than 300 senior promotions are still frozen as Tuberville refuses to allow their speedy confirmation. Tuberville has insisted Democrats can just simply hold votes on individual picks, but Democrats and the administration have noted that to do so would take hundreds of hours and totally dominate the Senate’s calendar.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden ally, said more votes in groups of two or three would not be appropriate. He credited the progress on Wednesday and Thursday to Republican pressure on Tuberville and said it should continue until there’s a broader breakthrough.
“There was some modest movement — we will have confirmed just three of 300, the most significant and senior but just three,” Coons said. “And we also just had a demonstration of what would happen if we actually proceed with confirming every one of them. It would shut down the Senate for a year and we would get nothing else done.”
Not to take the onus off of Tuberville, on whose shoulders the blame squarely lies, but if the Senate would grind to a halt if they had to actually confirm these officers, it’s a pretty clear signal that the normal process is pro forma. They should simply delegate promotion authority for 3-star and below to the Secretary of Defense on a by-exception basis. If a Senator has an actual objection—as Duckworth did in the matter of Sandy Vindman—than they would still have the ability to force oversight.
Tuberville, claiming victory, said will continue to demand that each nominee be considered individually until the Pentagon policy is reversed.
“So, to be clear, my hold is still in place,” Tuberville said Wednesday. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”
While one would think the Republican leadership could inflict pain on Tuberville for this stunt, it also seems like there are other ways around the issue. The Senate could hold a standalone vote on the DOD policy and, if it votes to reverse, then it could go to the House. (Or vice-versa, since it would have a better chance of going Tuberville’s way in the Republican-controlled House.)