Senator Tuberville lifts abortion-related blockade on some US military promotions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville, who has blocked hundreds of military promotions for months to protest the Pentagon’s payment of abortion-related travel costs, said on Tuesday he would lift his hold on some of them.

Shortly afterward, the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, took to the Senate floor to confirm hundreds of the stalled promotions. Since there were no objections, they all went through.

“425 highly-qualified, patriotic military leaders have now been confirmed by the Senate,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.

“These confirmations are long overdue, and should never have been held up in the first place.”

Pentagon leaders have said the holds threatened national security, and Tuberville, a social conservative from Alabama, has not lifted them all.

“I’ve still got a hold on, I think, 11 four-star generals. Everybody else is completely released by me,” he told reporters.

“It was pretty much a draw. They didn’t get what they wanted. We didn’t get what we wanted,” he said.

The Pentagon said it was encouraged by his decision.

“We’ll continue to stay engaged with Senator Tuberville and the Senate directly to urge that all the holds on all our general and flag officer nominations be lifted to include those nominated for four star,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.

“Anytime you add a level of uncertainty into the chain of command, it creates an unnecessary friction. It has an impact on readiness,” Ryder said.

Schumer told reporters: “One thing I would say, Senator Tuberville, I hope no one does this again.”

In a statement, Democratic Senator Mark Kelly responded to the news with three words: “About damn time.”

Tuberville began blocking confirmations to senior Pentagon posts in March to protest a U.S. military policy enacted in 2022 that provides paid leave and reimburses costs for service members who travel to get an abortion.

The policy was introduced after the Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a constitutional right to abortion.

Democrats have said Tuberville should show his objection to a policy matter by targeting Biden nominees involved with policy, not uniformed officers who enact those policies.

In August, the Navy, Marine Corps and Army were all without a Senate confirmed chief.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Patricia Zengerle, Jasper Ward and Susan Heavey in WashingtonWriting by Costas PitasEditing by Rami Ayyub, Daniel Wallis and Matthew Lewis)