July 15, 2024

The United States Senate has confirmed General CQ Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the highest decision-making bodies in the country’s military.

Wednesday’s 83-11 vote came months after President Joe Biden first nominated Brown for the post, as Democrats try to manoeuver around a protest led by Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville.

Since February, Tuberville has blocked the Senate from its routine process of approving military nominations in groups, as part of an effort to pressure the Pentagon to change its abortion policies.

Tuberville’s objections have frustrated Democrats, who initially said they would not go through the time-consuming process of bringing up individual nominations for a vote. More than 300 nominees are stalled amid Tuberville’s blockade, and confirming them one-by-one would take months.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reversed course on Wednesday. He moved to force votes on Brown, as well as on General Randy George and General Eric Smith, who are nominated to be US Army chief of staff and US Marine Corps commandant, respectively.

“Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head on,” Schumer said. “I want to make clear to my Republican colleagues — this cannot continue.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters after a weekly caucus meeting, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. Schumer criticized House Republicans, especially hard-right conservatives, for failing to pass appropriations bills due to GOP infighting. He stands behind a podium, his finger pointed into the crowd, with the gold ceilings of the Capitol behind him.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has blasted Republican Tommy Tuberville for his stance on military confirmations [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Tuberville did not object to the confirmation votes, saying he will maintain his holds but is fine with bringing up nominations individually for roll call votes.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that Brown’s confirmation, along with this week’s expected votes on Smith and George, is positive news. But “we should have never been in this position”, he said.

“While good for these three officers, it doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold,” Kirby told reporters.

Brown, a career fighter pilot, was the Air Force’s first Black commander of the Pacific Air Forces and most recently its first Black chief of staff, making him the first African American to lead any of the military branches. His confirmation will also mark the first time the Pentagon’s top two posts were held by African Americans, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as the top civilian leader.

Brown, 60, replaces Joint Chiefs Chairman Army General Mark Milley, who is retiring after four decades in military service. Milley’s four-year term as chairman ends on September 30.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., questions Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on her nomination for reappointment to the grade of admiral and to be Chief of Naval Operations, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Senator Tommy Tuberville has held up military confirmations due to his objection to the Pentagon’s abortion policies [File: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Tuberville said on Wednesday that he will continue to hold up the other nominations unless the Pentagon ends its policy of paying for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The Biden administration instituted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion. Some states have limited or banned the procedure.

“Let’s do one at a time or change the policy back,” Tuberville said after Schumer put the three nominations up for a vote. “Let’s vote on it.”

In an effort to force Tuberville’s hand, Democrats had previously said they would not vote on the most senior nominees while the others were still stalled. “There’s an old saying in the military, leave no one behind,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed said in July.

But on Wednesday, in a frustrated speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said he was left with no other choice.

“Senator Tuberville is using them as pawns,” Schumer said of the nominees.

Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed, D-R.I., center, joined from left by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks to reporters about the standoff over military promotions led by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. Standing outside, with the Capitol dome behind them, they speak behind a sign that reads, "Confirm them today."
The Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed, centre, is joined by fellow US senators as they protest a blockade led by Alabama’s Tommy Tuberville [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

The votes come as a host of military officers have spoken out about the damage of the delays for service members. While Tuberville’s holds are focused on all general and flag officers, they carry career impacts on the military’s younger rising officers. Until each general or admiral is confirmed, it blocks an opportunity for a more junior officer to rise.

That affects pay, retirement, lifestyle and future assignments — and in some fields where the private sector will pay more, it becomes harder to convince those highly trained young leaders to stay.

The blockade has frustrated members on both sides of the aisle, and it is still unclear how the larger standoff will be resolved. Schumer did not say if he will put additional nominations on the floor.

The months-long holds have devolved into a convoluted procedural back-and-forth in recent days.

Tuberville claimed victory after Schumer’s move, even though the Pentagon policy remains unchanged.

“We called them out, and they blinked,” he told reporters of Schumer.

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