U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has warned that a months-long holdup on new military nominations could jeopardize national security and lead to the loss of high-ranking officials in the Army and National Security Agency.
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), by way of a memorandum issued by Austin, announced that it would implement multiple new policies intended to fill gaps in reproductive care for service members and their families.
Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the former college football coach from Alabama who was elected in 2020, has been blamed by Austin for putting a hold on nominations. Tuberville has maintained that he would continue his stance “unless the secretary rescinds or suspends his newly implemented policy facilitating taxpayer-funded abortions for the military and their family members.”
Austin wrote a letter on Wednesday to Democratic Sens. Jack Reed, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel; and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, blaming Tuberville for preventing the Senate from advancing 196 DoD nominees.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks to the media after a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 21, 2023. Austin wrote a letter to Democratic senators on Wednesday warning that a GOP senator’s hold ups on military nominations could jeopardize national security.
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Tuberville’s hold will delay filling 64 three- and four-star nominations that will become empty within the next four months, Austin wrote.
These included the Army chief of staff, director of the National Security Agency, chief of naval operations, commandant and assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, commander of United States Cyber Command, and commander of United States Northern Command.
Newsweek reached out to the Pentagon and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) via email.
The Pentagon referred the inquiry to the Army, which had not responded at press time. An OSD spokesperson referred Newsweek to Austin’s March testimony, adding that it does not comment on congressional correspondence.
On March 28, Austin testified in front of the Senate for the 2024 fiscal year defense budget. He reiterated the military’s position on reproductive health care, saying that almost one in five troops are women who don’t get a chance to choose where they are stationed.
“So almost 80,000 of our women are stationed in places where they don’t have access to non-covered reproductive health care,” Austin said. “And I heard from our troops, I heard from our senior leaders, I heard from our chiefs and also our secretaries.
“And this policy is based on strong legal ground. And it is not a law, it is a policy. And so, you know, we obviously don’t pass laws in the Department of Defense.”
He also defended the military’s vaccine mandate policy, which he said “saved a lot of lives” and had no real correlation with recruitment numbers.
“This blockade is recklessly harming U.S. military readiness and derailing the apolitical, merit-based promotions of some of our nation’s best and brightest officers for purely partisan reasons,” Reed told Newsweek via email.
“The overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with these Republican tactics that are hurting hundreds of military families. We’ll continue to fight for our troops until this irresponsible blockade ends.”
Warren told Newsweek via email that Republican senators are harming national security by treating military families “like political footballs.”
“These U.S. servicemembers have earned their promotions, and if the Senator from Alabama continues this destabilizing and irresponsible inaction, Tuberville is knowingly endangering military readiness and putting our troops at risk,” Warren said.
Schumer echoed similar concerns.
“Our national security is not a bargaining chip for radical right-wing policies,” he said in a statement. “It is shameful that MAGA Republicans are so hell-bent on eliminating reproductive choice that they are willing to jeopardize America’s standing abroad, the livelihood of service members, and our military readiness.”
Tuberville has vowed to continue down this path, saying on March 29 that he “has no intention of lifting his hold as long as the DoD’s illegal abortion policy is in place.” On April 3, he accused Democrats of “injecting politics” into the military as part of a “culture war.”
On Wednesday, he tweeted support for an op-ed in Real Clear Policy written by Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Marjorie Dannesfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America—the latter of whom has publicly admonished Donald Trump’s abortion views as “morally indefensible.”
“Pro-abortion Democrats have failed to get rid of these critical protections through legislation, so the Biden administration is resorting to violating federal law to bypass them and impose an agenda that would never fly at the ballot box,” the pair wrote.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Newsweek via email that Austin’s new warning could be construed in two separate ways.
“Stalled confirmations create a domino effect in the Army leadership and are a nightmare administratively,” Cancian said. “Some officers may not be able to retire when they expect, others will not move when they expected, and others will be in an acting capacity without the full authority of the office.
“However, saying that Army readiness is damaged because senior officers cannot move implies that the current set of general officers are not competent in their current billets and need to be moved out. This makes no sense. The Army will have competent leadership, but their personnel management system and senior officer development will be a mess.”
Newsweek has reached out to Tuberville via email for comment. » …