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Senate prepares to confirm military leaders, circumventing Tuberville blockade

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The Senate was set to begin confirming three generals to serve on the president’s top military advisory board on Wednesday, circumventing a months-long block on military promotions by Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, who withheld hundreds of nominees in protest against a Pentagon. abortion access policy.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, moved Wednesday to force a vote on the confirmation of Gen. Eric Smith of the Marine Corps and Gen. Randy George of the Army as chiefs of staff of their respective services, and the general. Charles Q. Brown Jr. of the Air Force as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to replace Army Gen. Mark A. Milley when he steps down at the end of the month.

General Brown is expected to be confirmed later Wednesday, with the others expected to follow Thursday.

But the move left hundreds of other military promotions in limbo, still blocked by Mr. Tuberville’s objections.

Mr. Schumer was reluctant to force voting on individual candidates, for fear of being seen as capitulating to Mr. Tuberville, whose tactics he likened to taking hostages. The Alabama senator blocked a series of promotions of senior generals and admirals in an effort to force the Pentagon to reverse a policy, designed after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, consisting of granting leave and reimbursing soldiers who were required to do so. travel to obtain abortion or fertility services.

“The Senate will vote overwhelmingly to confirm them, and these three honorable men will finally be able to assume their duties,” Mr. Schumer told the Senate. “And the abortion policy that Senator Tuberville abhors will remain in place. Senator Tuberville will have accomplished nothing.

While Mr. Tuberville said he welcomed their quick approvals, he added that he would not relent in his efforts to end the abortion access policy.

“They finally understood that I was not going to give in. I still don’t,” Mr. Tuberville told reporters on Wednesday. “They need to do the right thing and roll back this policy.”

The White House welcomed the action but criticized Mr. Tuberville for refusing to back down.

Mr. Schumer’s decision, said White House spokesman John F. Kirby, was good for the three generals, their military branches and the Defense Department as a whole, but it “does not solve the problem.” nor opens the way for the 316 others. the generals and general officers who are held back by this ridiculous hold.

In March, the Pentagon adopted a policy granting leave and travel reimbursement to service members who need to leave the state to obtain an abortion or other forms of reproductive health services, aiming to give soldiers equal access to this care, regardless of where they are located. are parked.Mr. Tuberville, who earlier warned he would protest the policy change if it passed, has since retreated, refusing to allow the nominations to move forward even when his own party leaders publicly disavowed his efforts as being dangerous for military preparation. Instead, he has repeatedly demanded that the Pentagon reverse its policy unless Congress passes a law explicitly codifying it, and he has challenged Mr. Schumer to use heavy-handed procedural maneuvers if it does. wants to circumvent his objections.

Before Mr. Tuberville’s protests, the Senate routinely approved senior military promotions in blocks without controversy, a practice established to save valuable speaking hours. Although Mr. Schumer had the power to force votes on each individual promotion, he resisted because doing so for the hundreds in waiting would have consumed the Senate’s attention for weeks. He also worried that it might encourage other senators to employ similar tactics to protest federal policies in the future.

Mr. Schumer changed his mind Wednesday after Mr. Tuberville threatened to circumvent his own blockade and demand that the Senate hold a vote on the nomination of General Smith, the first of three newly confirmed leaders to appear for a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That would have allowed Mr. Tuberville to blunt accusations that he endangered national security by leaving the military’s top brass without permanent, fully empowered leaders.

Mr. Schumer ridiculed Mr. Tuberville’s latest ploy on Wednesday, accusing the Alabama senator of being underhanded and “basically trying to be a gatekeeper for the officers who get promoted and those who sit and wait.” .

“He is desperate to shift the blame to others,” Mr. Schumer said. “The blame lies squarely with Alabama’s senior senator.”

Mr. Tuberville in turn accused Mr. Schumer of having mismanaged the situation and of having underestimated his determination.

“This suspension does not affect readiness,” Tuberville said. “If Democrats want to complain, they should look in the mirror. I don’t control the ground; Democrats do it.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Schumer would try to continue holding such votes on pending high-level military promotions. The Armed Services Committee is expected to soon recommend Adm. Lisa M. Franchetti to the full Senate for confirmation as the next chief of naval operations, and in the coming weeks the committee is expected to consider the nomination of Gen. David Allvin to serve as the new chief of staff of the air force.

Mr. Kirby noted that it could take up to 700 hours for each pending promotion, adding: “This is not only unrealistic; it is dangerous for our national security.

Erica L. Green reports contributed.

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