US Senate confirms Biden pick as top US military officer

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A majority of the U.S. Senate backed U.S. Air Force chief General Charles Q. Brown on Wednesday to be the top U.S. military officer, as lawmakers moved to confirm some of the top senior officers whose promotions have been stalled by a Republican senator’s blockade.

The Senate backed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Brown to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by 83 to 11.

Brown is a former fighter pilot who brings command experience in the Pacific to the position at a time of rising tension with China.

He will be only the second Black officer to chair the Joint Chiefs after Colin Powell two decades ago.

The Senate moved ahead with votes on Brown and two other top military officers as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, used a procedural maneuver to sidestep a blockade by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville.

Tuberville began blocking confirmations to senior Pentagon posts in March to protest a Defense Department policy enacted last year that provides paid leave and reimburses costs for service members who travel to get an abortion.

Brown and other military officials had said Tuberville’s blockade of hundreds of military promotions could have a far-reaching impact across the armed forces, affecting troops and their families and harming national security.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin congratulated Brown on his confirmation, thanked Schumer for bringing the vote and chastised Tuberville for his obstruction. “It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees,” Austin said in a statement.

Biden’s nomination of Brown, which was announced in May, followed his appointment of Austin as the first Black U.S. secretary of defense, the top civilian position at the Pentagon.

Brown’s confirmation means Black Americans hold the top two positions at the Pentagon for the first time, a major milestone for an institution that is diverse in its lower ranks but largely white and male at the top.

Schumer also cleared the way for Senate votes on Biden’s nomination of General Randy George to become chief of staff of the Army, and General Eric Smith to become the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

Schumer’s procedural motion did not address hundreds of other military promotions still being delayed by Tuberville’s action.

The Senate’s approval of military promotions is usually smooth. Tuberville’s hold cannot prevent the Democratic-majority Senate from voting on any promotion, but it can drastically slow the process.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Chris Reese and Christopher Cushing)