Seven former defense chiefs urge Senate to end military promotions blockade

By Tony Bertuca / May 4, 2023 at 4:26 PM

Seven former defense secretaries have sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to “act expeditiously” to confirm nearly 200 military nominees that have been blocked from confirmation by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who is holding up the process over his opposition to Pentagon travel policies for servicemembers seeking abortion services.

Signatories of the letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) include former defense secretaries Mark Esper, Jim Mattis, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, William Cohen and William Perry.

“The blanket hold on the promotion or reassignment of these senior uniformed leaders is harming military readiness and risks damaging U.S. national security,” the former defense chiefs wrote.

“Because the Senate is required to confirm every general and flag officer for promotion or for reassignment,” they said, “this practice has traditionally been a pro-forma exercise, except where there have been specific concerns about individual nominees, which were then handled separately.”

Tuberville, however, has issued a blanket hold on military nominations and promotions that has been in place for several weeks, citing his opposition to a Pentagon policy that gives military servicemembers paid leave and travel expenses to obtain abortion services in states where they remain legal. He has likened the Pentagon to an “abortion travel agency.”

The former defense secretaries, without mentioning Tuberville’s name, say the “current hold” is “preventing key leaders from assuming important, senior command and staff positions around the world.”

They note the hold is impacting “important command positions” like leading the 5th Fleet in Bahrain and the 7th Fleet in the Pacific, “which are critical to checking Iranian and Chinese aggression, respectively.”

The former defense chiefs also highlight other expected vacancies that will need to be filled, including the next military representative to NATO and the director of intelligence at U.S. Cyber Command.

“Leaving these and many other senior positions in doubt at a time of enormous geopolitical uncertainty sends the wrong message to our adversaries and could weaken our deterrence,” they wrote.

Additionally, they wrote, the blanket hold will impact nearly 80 three- and four-star commanders ending their terms in the coming months who will not be able to be replaced, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“There are also real-world impacts on the families of these senior officers,” they wrote. “Most cannot move and resettle their families; their children cannot enroll at their next schools on time; and spouses cannot start new jobs at the next duty station. We can think of few things as irresponsible and uncaring as harming the families of those who serve our nation in uniform.”

Senators seeking policy changes, they said, should do so through legislation, not the holding of military nominations and promotions.

“We, therefore, strongly urge the Senate to ensure the continued readiness of the U.S. armed forces by lifting the blanket hold and promptly voting to confirm these uniformed nominees,” they wrote.

Tuberville, meanwhile, has shown no sign of backing off his hold, last month blocking an attempt to begin advancing nominees through unanimous consent.