Senate Confirms 3 Top Military Officials Amid Standoff Over Military Abortion Policy

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
November 2, 2023Congress

The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to confirm three military officers for top leadership positions, amid delays in the Senate process for confirming military promotions and nominations.

The Senate first voted 95–1 to confirm Adm. Lisa Franchetti as the new chief of naval operations (CNO), making her the top uniformed Navy official and the first woman in history to hold the position. The Senate subsequently voted 95–1 to confirm Gen. David Allvin as the new chief of staff of the Air Force, making him the top uniformed Air Force official. In a third voted 86–0 to confirm Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to serve as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, making him the second-highest-ranking uniformed Marine Corps official.

The three votes had been delayed due to an impasse over the Senate’s military confirmation process. For months, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has prevented the Senate from rapidly confirming military nominations as a means of pressuring the Department of Defense to withdraw a policy to compensate personnel for abortion-related travel and to let them take time for such travel without being charged from their leave allowance. Mr. Tuberville contends the DOD policy runs afoul of federal laws prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions.

Mr. Tuberville’s hold has specifically prevented the Senate from rapidly confirming military nominees en bloc through unanimous consent requests. Despite the block, the Senate has been able to hold confirmation votes for these nominees through its cloture process, but this requires individual votes on nominees and sets up time for debate on each nominee, making for a much slower process. As of Thursday, the Senate has taken just six votes to confirm military nominees through this slower cloture process since Mr. Tuberville began the hold: Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., Army Chief of Staff Gen. Randy A. George, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric M. Smith, and now Adm. Franchetti.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed cloture motions to hold individual votes to confirm Adm. Franchetti, Gen. Allvin, and Lt. Gen. Mahoney.

The impasse over the DOD abortion travel policy and Mr. Tuberville’s hold on unanimous consent votes has caused a backlog of more than 370 military promotions and nominations in the Senate. Amid this backlog, outgoing military officers have chosen to delay retirements, and many rising officers with pending nominations have had to fill vacancies in an unconfirmed acting capacity. The impasse has impacted senior leadership roles as high up as the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The confirmation of Adm. Franchetti and Gen. Allvin were the last two official vacancies on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With his confirmation on Thursday as assistant Marine Corps commandant, Lt. Gen. Mahoney, will have to fill not only his duties but those of his direct superior, Gen. Smith, who was hospitalized on Sunday by an undisclosed medical emergency. Gen. Smith’s hospitalization came just weeks after his own Senate confirmation as the top Marine Corps officer. With no assistant commandant confirmed at the time of Gen. Smith’s hospitalization, federal law had initially required Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl to fulfill the duties of the commandant, rather than Lt. Gen. Mahoney.

On Wednesday, the Marine Corps announced Gen. Smith remains hospitalized at a leading hospital in Washington, but is now in a stable condition and recovering. The service provided no additional details about the reason for Gen. Smith’s hospitalization.

Some Republicans Want to Speed Up Military Confirmations

Though the process by which the Senate confirmed Adm. Franchetti as CNO has been available for months, it has been a custom for the Senate to rapidly confirm military nominees en masse under unanimous consent requests and Senate Democrats have bristled at the prospect of moving at the much slower alternative process. Some Senate Republicans have also begun to chafe at the growing backlog of military nominees and minimal progress in confirming nominees.

On Wednesday evening, Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) spent more than four hours on the Senate floor requesting unanimous consent to hold individual confirmation votes on 61 military nominees. Their proposal would have entailed a slower process than approving military nominees en masse in a batch vote but would have still allowed the confirmation votes to proceed on a faster timeline than they would have under the cloture process.

The four Republican senators at times voiced their opposition to the DOD abortion-travel policy but expressed concern that Mr. Tuberville’s method of forcing a change in policy had begun to harm military readiness.

Throughout the floor proceedings, the four Republicans presented their individual nominees, but Mr. Tuberville objected to their requests for unanimous consent to proceed to a vote on each nominee.

“America needs to have our best players, most combat-capable leaders, on the field. And right now, that’s not happening. It needs to change,” Mr. Sullivan, a retired Marine Corps colonel and current member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Wednesday.

Despite the pressure from his fellow Republicans, Mr. Tuberville reiterated his position that he intends to keep slowing the military nomination process to force a reversal of this abortion-travel policy.

“I cannot simply sit idly by while the Biden administration injects politics in our military, again injects politics in our military from the White House, and spends taxpayers dollars on abortion. The only power that a senator in the minority has is to put a hold on a nomination,” he said.

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