(The Hill) – Three military services are now without Senate-confirmed heads for the first time in history, as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) holds up the confirmations of more than 300 senior military officers to protest the Pentagon’s new abortion policy.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday stepped down from his role Monday, leaving the Navy, Army and Marine Corps with acting heads.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday slammed the holds, which are stretching into a fifth month with no resolution in sight.
“Because of this blanket hold, for the first time in the history of the Department of Defense, three of our military services are operating without Senate confirmed leaders,” Austin said during a relinquishment ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “This is unprecedented, it is unnecessary, and it is unsafe. And this sweeping hold in undermining America’s military readiness.”
President Biden nominated Adm. Lisa Franchetti to become the first woman to lead the Navy. She will instead take over in an acting capacity.
The policy Tuberville is protesting allows for paid leave and travel reimbursement for service members seeking an abortion, which Tuberville argues is a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion.
Arguing the U.S. troops “deserve better,” Austin said the blockade of military promotions is preventing the military services from retaining the “very best” officers while “upending” too many American families.
“Smooth and swift transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most lethal fighting force in history,” Austin said. “And it’s time for the Senate to confirm all of our superbly qualified military nominees, including the 33rd chief of Naval Operations.”
Tuberville’s office pushed back on Llyod’s remarks Monday, saying the senator’s hold is “precedented, necessary, and not affecting readiness.” A spokesperson for Tuberville pointed to past blocks of military promotions and argued the senator is following a “bipartisan precedent.”
“This particular stand is necessary because the Biden administration has shown that, unless held accountable, they will continue to violate the law and use our tax dollars to promote an extreme left wing agenda,” a statement from Tuberville’s office said.
Tuberville’s office pointed to the military’s readiness and claimed no jobs are “going unfilled” with the hold.
“Contrary to some false reporting, Coach [Tuberville] is not blocking votes, he’s forcing votes. Chuck Schumer could approve a new Commandant of the Marine Corps in under three hours,” the statement continued.
Several Republicans in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have said they do not support Tuberville’s holds, but failed to strike a deal with Tuberville before the August recess.
Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said “it’s up to the Republican leadership” to move Tuberville off the holds.