U.S. Capitol | Susan J. Demas
WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday conducted a nomination hearing for the next U.S. Air Force chief of staff, a key appointment caught up in the more than 300 military promotions currently blocked by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
Gen. David W. Allvin, now vice chief of staff for the Air Force, fielded questions from senators ranging from F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine to the looming possibility of a government shutdown, which would halt some defense funding and military paychecks.
But members of the panel also pointed fingers and lobbed sharp remarks about the delay of Allvin’s and hundreds of other confirmations.
Tuberville, a Republican, has held back a growing list of nominees from Senate approval because he opposes the Department of Defense leave policy and travel allowances for service members seeking non-covered reproductive care, including traveling to states where abortion services remain available.
Several GOP senators accused Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of refusing to bring top ranking military nominees to the floor for individual votes.
The Senate has historically approved large groups of military nominees in one floor action.
“I don’t think it’d be too much to ask for the Senate to spend a little bit of time on confirming four-star general officer positions like chief of staff of the Air Force or commandant of the Marine Corps,” said GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
While the chamber’s majority leader ultimately has authority to break any one senator’s hold, voting on the 319 nominees would take hundreds of hours of floor time just as Congress must pass numerous bills to avert a government shutdown and lapses in federal programs before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Sen. Tim Kaine called Cotton’s comments “laughable.”
“Any attempt to blame the vacancies of these confirmed positions on Sen. Schumer is embarrassing,” the Democrat from Virginia said. “… We don’t mind voting on people, but the implication is, ‘Why not vote on the top brass and just punish all the people below them?’ That seems to be the offer.”
If confirmed, Allvin will be reappointed to his rank as four-star general and installed as chief of staff of the Air Force, filling the role previously held by Gen. Charles Q. Brown, who is the nominee to serve as the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Chair Mark Milley’s term expires at the end of the month.
Tuberville, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, told Allvin: “I wish they’d bring you to the floor today. I’d vote for you to be confirmed. Hopefully that happens in the near future.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, directly asked Allvin if the delayed promotions affect the perception of the military.
“Senator, I will tell you that while we don’t have specific hard data, my experience and my personal judgment says that this does hurt recruiting and retention,” Allvin responded.
Warren called the situation a “national security nightmare.”
Sen. Ted Budd, a North Carolina Republican, followed the Massachusetts lawmaker’s questions by saying: “Let’s just remember that Leader Schumer can bring all these wonderful nominees, qualified nominees, to the floor for a vote.”
“Also Secretary (Lloyd) Austin could change this with a stroke of a pen by this afternoon,” Budd said.
According to his office, Tuberville sent a letter to Austin on Dec. 9 notifying the defense secretary that he would hold military nominations if the Pentagon implemented an abortion policy months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.
Austin, during Senate hearings and recent military retirement ceremonies, has repeatedly said the holds are threatening national security.
Allvin told senators in his opening statement that his nomination “comes at a very important time in history.”
“Our nation is coming to grips with the rapid pace of change that is upon us and those intending to act against our national interests while aggressively seeking means to do so,” Allvin said.
Committee Chair Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, said he hopes for a “rapid confirmation” for Allvin.
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