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Biden denounces Sen. Tuberville for holds on military promotions

President Biden on Thursday publicly denounced Sen. Tommy Tuberville for single-handedly stalling the confirmation of more than 250 senior military officers over a dispute on abortion policy, accusing the Alabama Republican of using a “ridiculous” and “bizarre” tactic that is “jeopardizing U.S. security.”

While speaking at a news conference in Helsinki alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Biden called on Republicans in Washington to “stand up and do something about it.”

Tuberville, a member of the Armed Services Committee, placed holds on the promotions of senior military officers over his objection to a Defense Department policy allowing military personnel and their families to recoup travel expenses incurred while seeking an abortion if they are stationed in states that ban or restrict the procedure.

Biden was asked by an American reporter if he would be willing to talk to Tuberville directly about ending his blockade.

“I’d be willing to talk to him if there’s any possibility of changing this ridiculous position that is jeopardizing U.S. security,” Biden said. “I expect the Republican Party to stand up, stand up and do something about it.”

“The idea that we don’t have a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the idea that we have all these promotions that are in abeyance right now, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Biden continued, saying Tuberville’s attempt to gain leverage on a social issue by affecting foreign policy “is bizarre.”

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Biden’s choice to lead the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is among the senior military officers whose confirmation could be delayed by Tuberville’s tactics. At Brown’s confirmation hearing this week, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on the Senate Armed Services Committee voiced support for Brown’s nomination.

Biden said he’s “confident” that the “mainstream” Republican Party no longer supports what Tuberville is doing. “But they’ve got to stand up and be counted. That’s how it ends,” Biden said.

Tuberville told CNN on Thursday that pressure from fellow Republicans wouldn’t change his tactics and that he wants to talk to Biden about the issue.

“It doesn’t sound like anybody that wants to sit down and visit and work a problem out,” Tuberville said of Biden. “It sounds like somebody that wants to argue about it. I’m not in this to argue. I’m just in this to try to be fair and do what’s right.”

“He can call me everything he wants, but, hey, we need to get this worked out,” Tuberville added.

Later, a spokesman for Tuberville said the senator spoke with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday and that the two plan to continue talking.

Senate Democrats, who control the chamber, can still confirm nominees whom Tuberville has stalled. But doing so requires individual consideration and additional procedural moves that would consume scores of hours on the Senate floor.

Biden’s call for Republicans to stand up to Tuberville echoed remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

“Very simply, the onus is on Republican senators to prevail on Senator Tuberville and get him to back off his reckless pursuit,” Schumer said. “That is the crux of the matter.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in a statement Thursday that it’s time for Republicans to take action.

“I know many of my colleagues across the aisle disagree with the Senator’s blockade,” Reed said. “We have provided many opportunities for the Senator to drop his holds, but he has refused. Secretary Austin has called him twice. The Armed Services Committee has voted on legislation. The Justice Department has examined and upheld the Pentagon’s policy. At every turn, my colleague has ignored these answers to his demands and moved his goalpost. By allowing these holds to continue, Republicans are undermining the military and hurting military families.’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters in May that he doesn’t support putting holds on military nominations. But from a procedural standpoint, there is little he can do under Senate rules, which give individual senators the power to stall nominations.

A McConnell spokesman declined to comment Thursday on Biden’s remarks.

The Defense Department and congressional Democrats have increasingly raised concerns about Tuberville’s holds, noting that his block on generals and admirals not only prevents them from taking their new jobs, but also has a cascading effect on lower-ranking officers and their families.

Brown, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that the chaos could result in military families deciding it is not worth it to continue serving. Some families have been caught in limbo rather than making planned moves to new bases, even after selling homes.

“We will lose talent because of those challenges,” said Brown, who has served since 2020 as the top officer in the Air Force. “The spouse network is alive and well, and the spouses will compare notes. The member may want to serve, but the spouses and the family get a huge vote.”

The situation grew more acute Monday, as Gen. David Berger stepped down after four years as commandant of the Marine Corps without a confirmed successor. The Biden administration nominated Gen. Eric Smith, the assistant commandant, to take the job. Smith has broad support for confirmation in the Senate, but he is serving as acting commandant, effectively holding the two most significant jobs in the service.

Transitions in several other jobs on the Joint Chiefs of Staff are expected to be affected beginning next month if Tuberville does not lift his blockade.

The Army’s top officer, Gen. James McConville, is expected to retire next month. His likely successor, Gen. Randy George, faced a confirmation hearing Wednesday but will be caught in the same situation as Smith, unable to assume a post for which he has wide support in the Senate.

The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, also is expected to retire this fall, and the Air Force will be caught in limbo with Brown expected to advance, but no confirmed officer in place to replace him.

Austin, speaking Monday at Marine Barracks Washington as Berger stepped down, took aim at Tuberville’s tactics without calling him out by name.

“You know it’s been more than a century since the U.S. Marine Corps has operated without a Senate-confirmed commandant, and 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.

Austin added that military families “shouldn’t be weighed down with any extra uncertainty.” Senior leaders, he said, have a “sacred duty to do right by those who volunteer to wear the cloth of our nation, and I remain confident that all Americans can come together on that basic obligation to those who keep us safe.”

Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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