The ongoing Senate fight over military promotions and confirmations “harms America’s national security and hinders the Pentagon’s normal operations,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned in a letter to lawmakers released Wednesday.
The warning from the military’s top civilian leader, comes as the number of individuals caught up in the stalemate has swelled to more than 200. Without a political compromise, clearing the backlog of nominations could take months of parliamentary work, snarling all other business in the Senate.
But Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., has said he has no intention of dropping the holds, which he enacted in March as a response to the Defense Department’s abortion access policy from last fall. He reiterated his complaints in an interview with WBHM on Tuesday, calling the policies an illegal overreach by military leaders.
Last week, in a public letter, the seven living former Defense Secretaries blasted Tuberville’s blocking of the military moves as “irresponsible” in terms of national security and military personnel management. Austin, in a similar letter to senior Senate Democrats first reported by USNI, echoed the same message.
“The longer this hold persists, the greater the risk the U.S. military runs in every theater, every domain, every service,” he wrote.
“Never before has one senator prevented the Department of Defense from managing its officer corps in this manner, and letting this hold continue would set a perilous precedent for our military, our security, and our country.”
The list of holds includes the new commanders for U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Middle East and Seventh Fleet in the Pacific; the next director of intelligence for U.S. Cyber Command; a top Air Force strategic deterrence officer; and the next military representative to NATO.
Austin in his letter said 64 senior officers expected to take over new commands in the next three months are stalled by Tuberville’s objection. If the hold is not lifted, the total number of officers affected is expected to grow to around 650 by the end of the year.
“Ultimately, the breakdown of the normal flow of leadership across the department’s carefully cultivated promotion and transition system will breed uncertainty and confusion across the U.S. military,” he wrote.
Senate Democrats leaders have pushed Republican leaders to force Tuberville to drop his block of the military posts. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he does not support putting holds on military nominations, but said all other questions about the fight should be directed to the Alabama lawmaker.
Tuberville has said he won’t drop his objection until military officials pull back the abortion policy, which provides leave time and stipends for troops or qualified family members to travel across state lines to receive abortion services.
Military leaders have said the new policy is needed to preserve troops’ medical rights following a number of states outlawing abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the long-standing Roe v. Wade ruling last summer.
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.