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Defense Secretary Says Sen. Tuberville’s Confirmation Holds are ‘Undermining America’s Military Readiness’

Tuberville has said Austin’s abortion travel compensation policy is an illegal expansion of the DOD’s authority

Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed his concerns about military readiness amid a stand-off with Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama over abortion-related funding.

Austin voiced his frustration during a relinquishment ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland as the chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, steps down from his post. Gilday’s successor cannot be confirmed until the Defense Department reserves its abortion travel compensation policy or Tuberville backs down from his blockade. 

“Because of this blanket hold, starting today, for the first time in the history of the Department of Defense, three of our military services are operating without Senate-confirmed leaders,” said Austin on Aug. 14, per NBC News. “This is unprecedented, it is unnecessary, and it is unsafe. … This sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness.”

“It’s hindering our ability to retain our very best officers,” he continued. “And it’s upending the lives of far too many American military families.”

Without naming Tuberville, Austin said the “smooth and swift transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most lethal fighting force in history.”

Neither the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force nor the Army have a formally confirmed leader. 

Tuberville began blocking all military appointment confirmations earlier this year after Austin authorized the Defense Department to grant leave and to cover the travel costs of service members who go out of state to get an abortion or reproductive care. The Alabama senator says the policy is an illegal expansion of the Department’s authority.

“I’m holding DOD nominations because the secretary of defense is trying to push through a massive expansion of taxpayer-subsidized abortions without going through this body, without going through Congress,” Tuberville said on the Senate Floor in February. 

In total, Tuberville is single-handedly preventing 301 military promotions.

Austin has argued that service members are not able to select where they live and may need to travel to states with more progressive laws regarding abortion access. Tuberville has counterargued that the policy constitutes using federal funding to cover the costs of abortions. 

Steven Stafford, a spokesman for Tuberville, told The Washington Post in an email that both Democrats and Republicans have used holds on civilian and military officials in the past. He also said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is to blame for not bringing the individual names to the floor.

“The Senate has a right and duty to advise and consent to the President’s nominations and to conduct oversight over the Pentagon,” Stafford said.

“They think I am going to break; I will not break,” said Tuberville during an appearance on Newsmax’s “John Bachman Now” last week. “They are the ones that are ruining our military because they are putting politics in it.”

“I think everybody’s been hoping that Sen. Tuberville would back down, and I think we have to come to the conclusion that that is not happening and that he is prepared to burn the military down,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut on Aug. 8 after a pro forma session, per The Hill. “Maybe Republicans were hopeful that leading up to the August break he would relent. He didn’t, and we now have to adjust our strategy.”

Tuberville and Austin have spoken twice in recent weeks while trying to work out a path forward. Tuberville has called for a vote on New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s bill to codify the abortion travel expense policy into law. The Republican has said he will end his blockade if the measure passes or the Defense Department agrees to repeal the policy if the measure fails. 

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