Schumer Advances Votes on 3 Military Nominees Amid Months-Long Senate Standoff Over Pentagon Abortion Policy

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
September 20, 2023Congress
Schumer Advances Votes on 3 Military Nominees Amid Months-Long Senate Standoff Over Pentagon Abortion Policy
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a press conference in Congress in Washington on Sept. 19, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is advancing votes on three military nominees, amid a Senate standoff over a Department of Defense policy that compensates service members for abortion-related travel.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Schumer filed a cloture motion for the Senate to vote on the nomination of Air Force Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Schumer also filed cloture motions to bring votes on the nomination of Gen. Eric Smith to serve as the next commandant of the Marine Corps and for Gen. Randy George to become chief of staff of the Army.

These cloture motions come as the Senate’s process for considering military nominations has been stalled for months. While the Senate often approves large batches of military promotions and nominees through a single vote under its unanimous consent rules, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has maintained a hold that prevents the Senate from rapidly confirming large groups of military officials.

Mr. Tuberville has put this hold in place as a means of forcing the DOD to abandon a policy it recently adopted, of compensating service members for abortion-related travel. Mr. Tuberville contends that this policy is in conflict with existing federal law, codified in the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from going toward abortions except in cases where a pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or instances where the life of the mother is in danger.

The DOD abortion policy specifically allows service members who are stationed in states where abortion access is limited to take leave to travel to other states to obtain this “non-covered reproductive health care” without being charged from their leave allowance. The DOD policy also establishes a travel allowance for this abortion-related travel, though the DOD states individual service members will have to cover the cost of their abortion procedures themselves.

Mr. Tuberville has said he will maintain his hold on military nominations until the DOD either retracts this policy or Congress changes its laws regarding how and when federal funds can go toward abortions.

While Mr. Tuberville’s hold prevents the Senate from approving large batches of military nominees, the Senate can still consider these nominees one by one under its normal procedural rules. Mr. Schumer’s cloture motions on Wednesday will do exactly that, creating one-off votes for Gen. Brown, Gen. Smith, and Gen. George.

Votes Advance Following GOP Pressure

Amid Mr. Tuberville’s effort to challenge the DOD abortion policy, the Senate has seen a growing backlog of military promotions and nominations that need confirmation. Around 300 military positions are currently awaiting a Senate vote, and numerous high-level positions lack fully Senate-confirmed leaders.

Citing this ever-expanding backlog of military nominees, some military leaders and Democratic politicians have accused Mr. Tuberville of undermining military readiness and national security.

Mr. Tuberville has responded to criticism from across the aisle by reminding his Democratic counterparts that they have always had the ability to process military nominees, even with his move that blocks consideration of large groups of nominees under the unanimous consent rules. He has argued that the various military roles that lack Senate-confirmed officials can be sufficiently handled by officials serving in an acting capacity and that if Democrats are truly concerned, they can start scheduling votes on individual nominees.

Mr. Tuberville and some of his fellow Republicans have even begun pressuring the Democrat side to start scheduling votes for military nominees under the normal procedural rules.

Mr. Schumer’s decision to file the cloture motions on the three military nominees came after Mr. Tuberville started preparing to force a vote on Gen. Smith’s nomination. On Tuesday, the Daily Signal first reported that Mr. Tuberville had gathered the necessary support to file his own cloture motion for a vote on Gen. Smith’s nomination.

While Mr. Tuberville’s cloture motion would have circumvented his own hold on a unanimous consent measure for all military nominees, it could have forced Senate Democrats to go on the record as to whether or not they would accept one-off votes on military nominees as a stopgap while the standoff over the DOD abortion travel policy continues.

Mr. Schumer directly noted Mr. Tuberville’s cloture effort on Wednesday, calling it an “act of desperation.”

“In an act of desperation, Sen. Tuberville is trying to use a procedural step to overcome his own holds You read it right. His own holds,” Mr. Schumer said in a post on the X social media platform. “He is trying to make himself the gatekeeper of which officers are promoted or languish We can’t allow this to continue. We’re taking action.”

“We cannot allow Senator Tuberville to decide which of our brave service members get promoted and which languish,” Mr. Schumer said in a follow-up X post. “Democrats are taking action. Today, I filed cloture on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Army Chief of Staff.”

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