US finally confirms new top military leader after GOP delays over abortion policy

After months of Sen Tommy Tuberville blocking the approval of military nominations, the Senate confirmed Gen Charles Q Brown as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Senate voted 83-11 to confirm Gen Brown. In May, Gen Brown, the chief of staff of the Air Force, was nominated by President Biden to succeed Gen Mark Milley in the post.

The confirmation comes after Mr Tuberville’s blockade of hundreds of nominees over the military’s policy on abortion.

The policy, ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year, allows for military service members who need to travel for abortion or need to take time off for the procedure to be granted “travel and transportation allowances” and “appropriate administrative absence.” This policy only applies to service members who obtain reproductive care outside of the military.

Due to federal law, the Department of Defense is prohibited from providing abortion services at military treatment facilities except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the pregnant person’s life.

Although the policy does not technically fund abortions, the Alabama Republican has repeatedly claimed that it does.

In April, Mr Tuberville wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, accusing the Biden administration of putting “the taxpayer on the hook for travel and paid time off for service members, wives and other dependents to get elective abortions.” He added, “I will maintain my hold on nominations until the Defense Department changes its policy and follows the Constitution.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen CQ Brown, Jr. speaks about U.S. defense strategy at the Brookings Institution in Washington in February (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen CQ Brown, Jr. speaks about U.S. defense strategy at the Brookings Institution in Washington in February (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

But on Wednesday Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer forced a vote on Gen Brown and two others, both of whom are also expected to be confirmed.

“Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head-on,” Mr Schumer said. “I want to make clear to my Republican colleagues — this cannot continue.”

“Senator Tuberville is using them as pawns,” Mr Schumer said, referring to the nominees.

When asked whether the Alabama senator had any comment on the Senate circumventing his blockade, a spokesperson for Mr Tuberville told The Independent: “The Senate didn’t ‘circumvent his blockade.’ Coach forced the Senate to act.”

The Independent also asked about Mr Tuberville’s thoughts on the confirmation itself, to which the spokesperson replied, “Coach voted no on General Brown.” He was one of eight senators to vote ‘no’ — three didn’t vote.

Mr Schumer bypassed Mr Tuberville’s block by presenting each individual nomination for a full Senate vote.

“Let’s do one at a time or change the policy back,” Mr Tuberville said after the Senate majority leader put up the three nominations for a vote. “Let’s vote on it.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that while Gen Brown’s confirmation is great progress, “we should have never been in this position.”

“While good for these three officers, it doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold,” Mr Kirby said on Wednesday.

In a statement, Secretary Austin wrote, “I want to congratulate General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., on his confirmation as our nation’s next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He will be a tremendous leader of our joint force and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity.”

He also remarked on Mr Tuberville’s tactics.

“Senator Tuberville’s continued hold on hundreds of our nation’s military leaders endangers our national security and military readiness. It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees,” Secretary Austin said. “The brave men and women of the U.S. military deserve to be led by highly-qualified general and flag officers at this critical moment for our national security. And their families, who also sacrifice so much every day on our behalf, deserve certainty and our nation’s unwavering support. I will continue to personally engage with members of Congress in both parties until all of these well-qualified, apolitical officers are confirmed.”