Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday he will not support a fellow Republican senator’s blocking of military candidates, backing Democrats and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who have said the heist is hurting the National security.
Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville opposes the standard routine practice of confirming dozens of military nominations, a move that would force the Senate to cast potentially hundreds of votes to confirm uncontroversial senior military officers. Tuberville has not backed down on his months-old promise to hold off on abortion policy nominees from the Pentagon, which provides travel funds and support for troops and dependents who seek abortions but find themselves in states where they are now illegal.
“No, I do not support suspending military nominations,” McConnell told reporters, in response to a question about the Tuberville blockade. “I don’t support that. But as to why, you’ll have to ask Senator Tuberville.”
McConnell’s comments have no practical effect on Tuberville’s holds, because any senator can stop any Senate action. But the position of the Republican leader further isolates the Alabama Republican, as lawmakers and homeland security officials have said the heist could have dangerous effects.
In a letter sent last week to Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Austin wrote that he has “deep concern” about the confirmation delays. She said the Pentagon estimates that approximately 650 officers covered by the hold, those at the one-star to four-star levels, will require Senate confirmation between now and the end of the year.
The delays pose “a clear risk to US military readiness, especially at this critical time,” Austin wrote, adding that never before has a senator detained so many officers. Excess vacancies would break the normal flow of department leadership and create uncertainty and confusion, he said, putting operations in “every theater, every domain and every service” at risk.
In a hearing earlier this year, Austin defended the abortion policy, saying that tens of thousands of women in the military live and work in places without regular reproductive health care. “This policy is based on a solid legal foundation,” she said.
A Tuberville spokesman said Wednesday that McConnell’s comments have not changed his position. The senator has repeatedly said that he will not budge.
“Secretary Austin thought that abortion is more important than his highest-level military nominations,” he said late last month, after Democrats tried to call the nominations on the full Senate. “Secretary Austin could end the policy today and I would lift my hold. Secretary Austin has chosen not to do that.”
Tuberville has argued that Schumer can take the nominations to the full Senate at any time and hold individual votes. But each nomination would require at least two votes and days of time in the Senate, and Democrats have argued that it would set a dangerous precedent for holding partisan votes on routine military nominations that have traditionally passed unanimously by voice vote.
Schumer told the Senate floor Wednesday that Republicans are willing to jeopardize “America’s permanence abroad, the livelihoods of service members and our military readiness” over the issue of abortion access.
“Our national security is not a bargaining chip for the politics of the radical right,” Schumer said.
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.