Schumer Advances Votes on 3 More Military Nominees as Pentagon Abortion Policy Standoff Slows Senate

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
November 1, 2023Congress
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Schumer Advances Votes on 3 More Military Nominees as Pentagon Abortion Policy Standoff Slows Senate
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference following a closed-door lunch meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 31, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed three motions for cloture on Tuesday, setting up confirmation votes for nominees for two vacancies on the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and a top Marine Corps office, amid an ongoing legislative battle over military confirmations.

Mr. Schumer’s cloture motions set the stage for Senate confirmation votes on President Joe Biden’s appointment of U.S. Navy Adml. Lisa Franchetti to serve as the next chief of naval operations, and for U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin to serve as the next chief of staff of the air force. The two joint chiefs positions have lacked Senate-confirmed officers for weeks as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has placed a hold on bulk confirmations of military nominees, and the Democratic Senate majority has ordered few confirmation votes on individual nominees.

For months, Mr. Tuberville has maintained the hold on military nominations in hopes of pressuring the Biden administration and the Department of Defense to retract a policy that compensates DOD personnel for abortion-related travel and excuses their leave time for such travel.

Mr. Tuberville’s hold has prevented the Senate from using unanimous consent rules to confirm batches of military promotions and nominees. The Senate can still hold confirmation votes on military promotions and nominees one by one through their normal rules and procedures, but this process takes longer and the Senate has only confirmed three nominees through this process so far: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy A. George, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric M. Smith.

In addition to filling the last two vacancies on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mr. Schumer filed an additional cloture motion to hold a confirmation vote on President Biden’s appointment of Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to serve as the assistant commandant for the U.S. Marine Corps. If confirmed, Lt. Gen. Mahoney could soon assume the responsibilities of both the commandant and assistant commandant of the Marine Corps after Gen. Smith was hospitalized over the weekend by an unspecified medical emergency.

“Lt. Gen. Mahoney’s confirmation is urgent in light of the frightening news that Gen. Eric Smith, confirmed last month to lead the US Marine Corps, was hospitalized Sunday after a serious medical emergency. We pray for General Smith’s recovery. Our thoughts are with him and his family,” Mr. Schumer said on Tuesday. “This scary incident involving General Smith shows why it’s supremely risky to play politics with military appointments, as Sen. Tuberville is doing. Emergencies happen, and when they do, the chain of command must be able to respond but thanks to Senator Tuberville, there is no current number two at the Marine Corps to fill in.”

Gen. Smith’s duties as commandant are currently being fulfilled by the Marine Corps’s next most senior officer, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl; as prescribed by federal law when there is no Senate-confirmed assistant commandant.

In remarks following his cloture motions, Mr. Schumer castigated the Alabama Republican for maintaining his hold, blaming him for a backlog of more than 300 military promotions and nominations.

“Lt. Gen. Mahoney should have been appointed a very long time ago, but he is one of the more than 300 nominees that Senator Tuberville is brazenly blocking to advance his extreme agenda,” the Senate majority leader said. “Every day that Senator Tuberville continues his blanket holds, our military preparedness is worse off. Our military families suffer. Our military appointments risk being further ensnared in partisan politics, which is a point of no return we must never cross in the Senate. Senator Tuberville should drop his blanket holds at once. And in the meantime, the Senate will proceed to confirm these nominations that should have been swiftly approved long ago, as has been custom in the Senate for decades.”

Tuberville Says He Forced Schumer’s Hand

A U.S. federal law known as the Hyde Amendment currently prohibits the use of federal funds to cover abortions, except in cases where a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or comes about as a result of rape or incest. Mr. Tuberville has insisted the DOD’s policy of covering abortion-related travel expenses and allowing personnel to take time off without being charged for leave time runs afoul of this federal law, but the Department of Justice under the Biden administration has concluded that the Hyde Amendment does not apply and does not bar federal dollars from covering costs for travel or leave time taken for the express purpose to obtain an abortion.

Nevertheless, Mr. Tuberville has insisted he will continue to block bulk confirmations of military nominees until the DOD either retracts the abortion travel policy or Congress amends federal law to clearly permit federal funds for such abortion-related travel.

Despite blocking bulk military confirmations, Mr. Tuberville has expressed no opposition to the Senate confirming military nominees on an individual basis. In fact, the Democratic Senate Majority only advanced individual confirmation votes after Mr. Tuberville began gathering support for his own cloture motions for military nominees.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Tuberville told reporters he was again advancing an individual cloture motion to take up Lt. Gen. Mahoney’s nomination and predicted Mr. Schumer would advance his own cloture motions and “take credit for it.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Tuberville’s communications director Steven Stafford told NBC News that the Alabama Republican had indeed forced the hand of the Democratic Senate majority.

“This is an admission by Chuck Schumer that the Senate is capable of voting on military nominations after all,” Mr. Stafford said. “This is the second time Coach has forced Schumer to vote, and it just shows that Coach and 16 other Republicans can do this to Senator Schumer as many times as they want.” (Mr. Tuberville is a retired college football coach.)

NTD News reached out to Mr. Tuberville’s office for additional comment, but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

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