One Republican Senator Is Blocking 265 Military Promotions, Leaving the Marines Without a Confirmed Leader

FILE - Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, May 16, 2023. Hopes were dashed Monday, June 12, for an imminent end to a Senate standoff that has delayed the promotions of more than 200 military officers and could delay the confirmation of President Joe Biden’s pick for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tuberville has been blocking the nominations to pressure the Defense Department to rescind a policy that reimburses service members who have to travel out of state for abortions and other reproductive care. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By Keya Vakil

July 11, 2023

Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s decision means these military officers are not getting the pay raises they’re owed, cannot move their families to wherever they’re going to be stationed next, and cannot enroll their children in new schools.

For the first time since 1859, the United States Marines Corps is functioning without a Senate-confirmed leader, due to the actions of one US Senator: Republican Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Tuberville has engaged in a months-long campaign to block every single military nomination in the Senate as part of his opposition to a Defense Department policy covering the travel expenses of service members and their dependents who have to travel out-of-state to seek abortions.

Because of the way the US Senate operates, a single senator can use a procedural tactic to completely gum up the works and obstruct military nominees from receiving confirmation votes—and that’s exactly what Tuberville has done.

According to the Pentagon, this has resulted in 265 military promotions remaining in limbo—which as CNN’s Kaitlan Collins pointed out in an interview with Tuberville on Monday—means these officers are not getting the pay raises they’re owed, cannot move their families to wherever they’re going to be stationed next, and cannot enroll their children in new schools.

Tuberville has insisted that “there is nobody more military” than he is and that he “wouldn’t be doing this” if it impacted military readiness or recruiting. But as of Monday, when Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger stepped down due to a four-year limit on service in the role, the Marines are without a confirmed leader.

The Senate tried to vote on a nominee—General Eric Smith, currently the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps—to succeed Berger, but Tuberville blocked the vote, marking the first time in 164 years that the Marine Corps is without a Senate-confirmed leader, something that military officials argue could indeed affect readiness and preparation.

Smith is currently serving as acting commandant of the Marines, but because he has not been confirmed, he is now serving in two roles at once, juggling both jobs.

Smith told DefenseOne last month that the impact of not having a confirmed commandant for an extended period of time “are not ideal,” and will require a lot of delegating that has a “pretty significant” ripple effect on Marine Corps leadership.

To avoid any potentially negative consequences, Berger and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have called on the Senate to act and confirm a leader.

“Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history,” Austin said in his remarks at a ceremony honoring Berger’s service on Monday. 

He also noted that Tuberville’s blockade is creating uncertainty for military families. 

“Our military families give up so much to support those who they serve, so they shouldn’t be weighed down with any extra uncertainty. We have a sacred duty to do right by those who volunteer to wear the cloth of our nation,” Austin said. “I am also confident that the United States Senate will meet its responsibilities.”

Berger agreed: “We need the Senate to do their job so we can have a sitting commandant that’s appointed and confirmed.”

Senators from both parties have also criticized Tuberville’s actions in recent months, with one even accusing him this week of using military officers as “political pawns.”

Tuberville has also faced criticism from other top US Army officers, including Lt. Gen Andrew Rohling, the deputy commanding general of US Army Europe-Africa, who called Tuberville’s actions “reprehensible, irresponsible and dangerous” in an interview with Punchbowl News.

Despite this criticism, Tuberville has insisted he won’t change his approach, even as his tactics are on the verge of becoming even more disruptive.

More than half of the current Joint Chiefs are expected to step down from their roles in the next few months. Unless Tuberville ends his obstruction, they won’t be replaced by Senate-confirmed successors, leaving President Biden’s top military advisory body in a state of uncertainty amid Russia’s war with Ukraine and growing tensions with China.

Tuberville’s continuing blockade of military nominations also comes as he faces backlash for a series of controversial comments he made regarding white nationalists serving in the military.

In a May radio interview, Tuberville said he believed white nationalists—people who believe white people are superior to other races—were just “Americans” and suggested they should be allowed to serve in the military.

During his interview with Collins on CNN on Monday, Tuberville doubled down on the notion that a white nationalist is simply “an American,” arguing that not all white nationalists are racist, even as the ideology is inherently racist.

“A white nationalist is someone who believes that the white race is superior to other races,” Collins pointed out.

Tuberville pushed back on that definition, insisting it was just “some people’s opinion.”

“My opinion of a white nationalist—if somebody wants to call them a white nationalist—to me, is an American. It’s an American,” Tuberville said. 

Tuberville said he was against any white nationalists who are racist and “against any type of racism,” noting his time as a college football coach, where he interacted with many people of color. But he then seemed to suggest that if white nationalists were banned from serving in the military, it would “do away with most white people in this country out of the military.”

In response, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to call on Tuberville to apologize and acknowledge the reality of white nationalism.

“The Senator from Alabama is wrong, wrong, wrong: the definition of white nationalism is not a matter of opinion. White nationalism – the ideology that one race is inherently superior to others, that people of color should be segregated, subjected, and relegated to second-class citizenship – is racist down to its rotten core,” Schumer said. “And for the Senator from Alabama to obscure the racist nature of white nationalism is indeed very, very dangerous. His words have power and carry weight with the fringe of his constituency.”

Schumer pointed to the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, where a self-described white nationalist killed 23 people, and the 2022 massacre at a predominantly Black Buffalo grocery store in which a white nationalist killed 10 people, all of whom were Black.

“This isn’t a joke. This is deadly serious stuff,” Schumer said. 

Tuberville responded by telling reporters by once again insisting he was against any type of racism. 

“There’s nobody less racist in this building than me,” Tuberville told reporters.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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