WASHINGTON — Hopes were dashed Monday 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.
Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama 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. Alabama is among the states where abortion is now illegal.
A proposal to hold a Senate debate over Pentagon abortion policies as part of the annual defense bill negotiations was seen by some senators as the best prospect for getting Tuberville to lift those holds, but his office said Monday that Tuberville was opposed.
The hold affects everyone from four-star Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, who was nominated to serve as the next chairman of the joint chiefs, to scores of one, two and three-star officers who are assigned to new base commands.
It also affects their families, who usually relocate over the summer to their new military communities so school-age children can get settled in before fall.
And it stretches to hundreds more younger military personnel who don’t need Senate confirmation but are still effected by the hold because they are assigned to serve as staff or aides to the relocating generals. Those aides move their families as well. So they are essentially stuck, too.
That essentially leaves two options. First, Tuberville’s office said Congress could vote to change a U.S. law that prohibits federal funding for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or threat to life of the pregnant woman, which Tuberville has said the Pentagon is circumventing through its new policy. Changing that law is unlikely in the Republican-controlled House.
That leaves Senate Democratic leadership with the unattractive option of getting past Tuberville’s hold by calling for a separate Senate vote on each individual nomination. Due to debate rules, a Senate Democratic staffer said this would take an estimated two to three days per nomination and might get done by the end of the year but only if the Senate did nothing else for the rest of the session.
The debate over the holds comes as Tuberville is engaged in another dispute with the Pentagon over the future headquarters of U.S. Space Command. Tuberville is fighting to bring the headquarters to Huntsville, Alabama. Both his office and the Pentagon say that decision is unrelated.