Senate gets around Tuberville to confirm Joint Chiefs chairman

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, filling a crucial position that was set to become vacant in the coming weeks and overcoming Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) months-long hold on military promotions.

Senators voted 83-11 to confirm the Air Force general to the post after being nominated by President Biden in May to replace outgoing Chairman Mark Milley.

Milley’s term expires Oct. 1, and filling the post was a top priority for many lawmakers.

All 11 senators who voted no were Republicans: Sens. Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Mike Lee (Utah), Roger Marshall (Kan.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.), JD Vance (Ohio), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Tuberville. 

Senate Democrats, over the seven months that Tuberville has had a hold on 300 promotions, have repeatedly declined to bring up top military brass for individual votes over fears that it would create a bad precedent. Instead, they said Republican leadership needed to take action.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier Wednesday made the surprise announcement that he would tee up votes on a trio of military nominations. On top of Brown, the Senate is set to vote on Gen. Randy George to become Army chief of staff and Gen. Eric Smith to serve as the commandant of the Marine Corps.

That came after Tuberville told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that he would attempt to force a cloture vote on Smith’s nomination over his own hold. Schumer kicked off debate on the three nominations just hours before that was set to happen.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Tuberville declared victory after the first of the series of individual votes on these nominees.

“This is not about me. This is about the Senate and the Constitution,” Tuberville said. “This is a win today for the legislative branch of government. Voting gives all senators a voice for their constituents.” 

Tuberville put the hold in place in March over the Pentagon’s new policy that allows the department to cover travel expenses for service members who seek abortion care.

Military officials have attacked Tuberville in recent months and argue that his hold is harming readiness of U.S. forces and creating instability within military families. 

Many of the more than 300 promotions being held up are usually advanced en bloc via unanimous consent, and Democrats maintain that they will not move to confirm them one by one.

“Taking these promotions one at a time would cost over 100 days on the Senate calendar,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters earlier on Wednesday prior to Schumer’s announcement. “This is not a solution to his challenge. It really is going to drag this out at the expense of everything else that needs to be done in the Senate.” 

Democrats have also chided Republican leaders for not taking further action to find an offramp to end Tuberville’s blockade. 

Tuberville added in his floor remarks that he might bring additional cloture votes in the coming weeks on other top military officials but that his hold will continue for the foreseeable future.

“To be clear, my hold is still in place,” Tuberville said. “I reserve the right to seek another cloture position on the nominees in the future, so that’s where we stand today.”

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