The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ending a months-long standoff with Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who had blocked hundreds of military nominations over a Defense Department policy on abortion.
Brown to succeed Milley as top military officer
Brown, who has served as the chief of staff of the Air Force since 2020, was confirmed by an 83-11 vote. He will succeed Army Gen. Mark Milley, whose term ends next month. Brown will be the first chairman from the Air Force since 2005, when Gen. Richard B. Myers, a nominee of President Bill Clinton, concluded his term.
Brown is also the first Black officer to lead one of the nation’s military services and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking military officers who advise the president on military matters. He was nominated by President Joe Biden in May, along with Gen. Eric Smith to serve as the next commandant of the Marine Corps and Gen. Randy George to serve as the chief of staff of the Army.
Tuberville’s hold on military nominations
However, Brown’s confirmation, along with hundreds of other senior military officers, was delayed by Tuberville, a Republican senator from Alabama, who had placed a hold on unanimous consent for military nominations since February. Tuberville objected to a Defense Department policy that provides time off and reimbursements for service members and family members who need to travel out of state for abortions and other services like in vitro fertilization.
Tuberville argued that the policy violated the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion services. He demanded that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, set up individual votes on each nominee instead of using unanimous consent, which allows the Senate to quickly move through large numbers of nominees.
Schumer resisted Tuberville’s demand for months, saying that all nominees should have been considered and confirmed “in a bipartisan way.” He also accused Tuberville of harming the military and their families by leaving key positions vacant.
Schumer bypasses Tuberville’s blockade
On Wednesday, Schumer changed his strategy and filed cloture on Brown, Smith and George’s nominations, paving the way for voice votes on them. Schumer said he was forced to confront Tuberville’s obstruction head on and warned that his tactics could set a precedent where senators could use widely supported nominees as leverage for their pet priorities.
“It’s not the path the vast majority of senators on either side of the aisle want to go down, but Senator Tuberville is forcing us to confront his obstruction head on,” Schumer said. “The Senate runs on unanimous consent, and we depend on each other to ensure this institution functions smoothly. That’s how we make things happen around here. If everyone objected to everything, to get leverage for their pet priorities, it will grind this body to a halt.”
Schumer also said that if Tuberville insisted on not shortening the timeline for the votes, then the Senate could stay into the weekend to confirm the three nominees. However, Tuberville did not object to collapsing the time and holding the votes later that afternoon.
Tuberville claimed that Schumer’s move was a win for him and said he had been calling for individual votes for months. He also said he would continue to hold up other military nominations until the Defense Department changed its policy on abortion.
“I’m not going to let up,” Tuberville said. “I’m going to keep fighting for life.”
More than 300 military nominees still in limbo
While Brown’s confirmation was welcomed by many lawmakers and military leaders, more than 300 flag and general officer military nominations across the services are still awaiting Senate approval due to Tuberville’s hold.
According to an Aug. 23 memo from the Congressional Research Service, it would take the Senate about 89 days to approve 273 nominations, provided lawmakers work an eight-hour work day and do not conduct other business.
Some of the nominees who are still in limbo include Adm. Lisa Franchetti, who was nominated by Biden in July to serve as the next chief of naval operations; Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who was nominated in June to serve as commander of U.S. Southern Command; and Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, who was nominated in May to be the U.S. military representative to the NATO Military Committee.
During her confirmation hearing last week, Franchetti said it could take years for the Navy to recover from the effects of the stalled promotions.
“I think just at the three-star level, it would take about three to four months to move all of the people around, but it will take years to recover from the promotion – if confirmed – for the promotion delays that we would see forward,” she told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro also called on Tuberville to lift his holds and confirm the remaining nominees.
“These are men and women who have dedicated their lives to the service of our nation,” Del Toro said. “They deserve to be confirmed.”