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It’s not every day that you hear senior Pentagon officials publicly accuse a US senator of aiding communist states and enemies of the United States.
But this is where we have come to in the current history of modern Washington; an old custom is used to cripple the modern machinery of government as a senator takes a controversial public stance in the culture wars.
- The senator is Tommy Tuberville, the Republican from Alabama known for his controversial statements.
- The old custom he exploits is the informal Senate policy that allows individual lawmakers to “suspend” presidential nominations.
- In the US military, where most servicemen change jobs every few years, Tuberville’s general blocking has halted promotions and movement among general officers.
- The problem of the culture war concerns the right to abortion.
Months after the protests began in Tuberville, the number of unfilled general officer positions is increasing and this is having a negative effect on service members and their families, Pentagon officials say.
The Army, Navy and Air Force Civil Secretaries appeared on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper on Tuesday to publicly shame Tuberville.
“I never imagined that one of our own senators would aid and abet a communist regime and other autocratic regimes around the world,” Communist-born Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told Tapper. in Cuba, arguing that US military readiness is suffering.
“He is playing Russian roulette with the very lives of our military by denying them the ability to have the most experienced combat leaders in those positions to lead them in peacetime and in combat,” Del Toro said. at another time.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the promotions would have a ripple effect and discourage people from a military career.
“I’m really concerned that a lot of these volunteer agents will leave and basically say, I don’t want to deal with this,” Wormuth said.
The Washington Post conducted a comprehensive review of more than 300 blocked promotions and how it affects bases in the United States and around the world, including the top positions in every major service branch.
The list of vacancies may soon include that of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the highest ranking US military officer.
The current president, General Mark Milley, is required by law to retire by October 1 after eight years of service. President Joe Biden nominated Air Force General CQ Brown in May to become the next president. Rather than schedule an individual vote to confirm Brown, Democrats are hoping the pressure of a stumbling block to securing such a key post will cause Tuberville to back down on all of the generals retained.
Tuberville said he was not going to move and told CNN’s Manu Raju that as far as he was concerned Milley could “work overtime”. To be clear, Milley can’t do that. The law specifically requires that he resign.
Related: Raju has the latest news on the military blockade of Tuberville
While some fellow Republicans publicly express their frustration with the blockade, Tuberville told Raju he doesn’t feel pressured to back down.
He dislikes a Pentagon policy intended to help military personnel stationed in states with no abortion rights travel to other states to access abortion care. Tuberville thinks the policy violates a long-standing ban on taxpayer dollars being used for abortion and he wants a debate and a vote on the issue. But he did not propose an amendment or a bill.
Writing in The Washington Post, the service secretaries asserted that the reproductive rights policy is completely legal and also “critical and necessary to fulfilling our obligations to the force.”
It’s not. There is nothing in the Constitution, US law, or Senate rules that positively explains why and how every senator should have the power to erase things.
Comity evolved in the 1950s, according to this informative 11-page report from the Congressional Research Service, an offshoot of Senate rules, which allow individuals to insist on a relatively large speaking time to be used for anything, including relatively routine appointments. . Normally, these non-controversial appointments are subject to “unanimous consent”, that is to say without the use of speaking time.
Technically, yes. It is possible to circumvent an expectation by simply scheduling a debate and voting on each of the candidates.
But if Tuberville then insisted on using all available speaking time — several days each — for hundreds of Pentagon nominations, the Senate wouldn’t have time for anything else.
Also, from a political standpoint, Democrats clearly don’t care if a Republican senator gets in the way of the country’s military leadership. They’re looking for Republicans to lean on Tuberville.
It’s hard not to compare Tuberville’s uncompromising, unapologetic view of the effect his promotion block will have on the military with a broader government view displayed in recent years.
Government shutdowns — those times when funding for government programs expire, causing headaches for officials and government agencies — have become relatively frequent occurrences in recent years. There’s another one on the horizon.
The latest CNN report says House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is urging his fellow Republicans to support a short-term funding bill and instead focus on a second funding standoff later in the fall.
These negotiations over government spending are also a good reason why the Senate cannot devote all of its time to military appointments.
This spending stalemate comes directly on the heels of a heated debate this spring in which Republicans insisted on budget cuts in exchange for meeting national debt obligations.
The Freedom Caucus has leverage because to become Speaker of the House, McCarthy had to agree to give them the ability to challenge his position more easily. There are already rumors of a vote against him if he does not continue his impeachment efforts against Biden.
This all adds up to a Washington where individual right-wing lawmakers are perfectly willing to stop government from working to change the way it works.