Reed Discusses Harmful Blockade on Military Promotions
REED: Mr. President, I rise tonight to discuss once again the routine promotions of our military's general and flag officers.
During this Congress, due to the dangerous and extreme position of one Republican Senator, not a single general or flag officer has been confirmed--not one--all because that Senator disagrees with a policy that is designed to ensure safe and reasonable access for all servicemembers to reproductive healthcare regardless of where the military chooses to assign them.
Last week, the Defense Department's legal advisers and subject-matter experts came before the Armed Services Committee to brief us on the policy and to answer our Members' questions. They laid out clear, plain facts that explained the legality and appropriateness of the policy. As I stated publicly after the briefing concluded, no one with an ounce of intellectual honesty can deny that the Department's policy is legal and is, in fact, rooted in decades of precedent through administrations of both parties.
I respect my colleagues on the other side who feel strongly about this issue, but until Congress passes a law to overturn 40 years of legal precedence, the Department of Defense has a responsibility to manage the health, welfare, and readiness of the force within the legal authorities available to it.
The Department's legal experts also outlined in detail the long- existing statutory authorities that allow the Department to provide these travel and leave benefits. That is all they are, travel and leave policies--policies, I would note, that have been on the books in various fashions for decades.
Even Senator Ernst, the sponsor of a bill that would rescind the policy, recognized publicly after the briefing that the policy is legal. I will note my respect for Senator Ernst. Unlike most of her colleagues, she stayed to the end of the briefing and listened to everything the Department had to say and formed her opinion accordingly. Senator Ernst and I have very different views on this issue, but we share a common respect for our military women and men and an understanding of how Congress should treat them.
Our colleague from Alabama, however, has chosen to take a profoundly disrespectful approach. The nominations he is blocking have had no objections raised against them, and they have all been confirmed by unanimous approval in the committee, including by the Senator from Alabama. These are not controversial nominations.
For many decades, military promotions have been a bipartisan, routine piece of Senate business. Now they have been turned into a political sideshow by the Senator from Alabama. He is getting a lot of personal benefit out of this and I suppose a bit of fundraising success as well. To seek to profit in any way on the backs of servicemembers is, in my view, a disgrace.
To avoid accountability, the Senator likes to say that we should ``just vote'' on these nominations, but he knows this is a ludicrous idea. Let me explain it again. It is virtually impossible for the Senate to process this volume of nominations through floor procedures. As the majority leader and I have explained before, it would literally take the rest of this Congress to move through the nominations we have now, not even accounting for the hundreds still to come.
The Senator from Alabama knows this. So he does not really want to ``just vote''; he wants to grind the Senate to a halt on a series of nonstop 99-to-1 rollcall votes. That means no other Senate business, such as the annual Defense bill we are debating right now or the appropriations bills, which are being considered by the Appropriations Committee; no legislation of any kind, which may, in fact, be his motive.
The Senator from Alabama has moved his goalposts many times, never offering a viable or reasonable compromise. Originally, he just wanted a call from the Secretary of Defense.
Once he got it, he changed his demand again. When he asked for a vote to repeal the policy, we did so during the National Defense Authorization Act markup, but of course he changed his demands again, and he is now calling for the complete capitulation of the Department. At this point, one has to wonder if he actually wants to achieve his demands or if he just wants to stay in the spotlight.
We will soon enter the seventh month of this nonsense, and the effects are building. This doesn't just affect the 273 officers stuck on the Senate floor; it affects thousands of military spouses and children, whom I will discuss in a moment, and it affects the officers coming up behind them, some of whom could be assigned but for the fact that an officer sits ahead of them, awaiting Senate confirmation before they can move.
According to the Department of Defense, 45 officers are unable to assume new positions, including 35 who cannot move because their assigned rank goes with the position for which they have been nominated and another 10 officers who are projected to be assigned to a position now held by one of those 35. Twenty-two officers who have been selected for their first star will have to assume the duties of the higher grade while serving as a field grade officer, not a flag officer. Those officers are losing about $2,600 per month through no fault of their own. Similarly, 20 officers selected to the grade of 0-8, or two stars, will assume duties of the higher grade while remaining in their current grade. These officers are losing nearly $2,000 per month while this blockade continues. Contrary to the misinformation from the Senator from Alabama, there will absolutely be no back pay for these officers, no back pay at all. Their pay is tied to their rank, which is tied to their appointment to that rank, which cannot occur until the Senate provides its consent. While the
Senator is trying to enhance his notoriety, these officers are losing pay.
Twenty-one three- and four-star officers have had their retirements deferred to ensure continuity of command. After 30 or 40 years of uniformed service, numerous combat deployments, countless missed birthdays and anniversaries, and countless missed sports games and musical recitals, these officers have been told that their lives are less important than one Senator's ego.
The most heartbreaking effects are on the families that have been impacted by these holds. I will describe just a few of these stories.
Because of the Senator from Alabama's hold, the Marine Corps was forced to cancel a coast-to-coast move for a general and his family. The family's household goods had already been shipped and are now waiting in storage at their future duty station while the general covers the duties of a three-star at a temporary station.
Two Air Force officers who sold their homes in anticipation of moves are living in temporary housing and paying their storage costs out of their own pockets. They have no clarity about the length of time their nominations will remain on hold, as they are forced to continue their service in their current assignments to ensure continuity.
A naval officer awaiting orders for an overseas assignment has been caught in the Senator's hold. This officer's spouse was a teacher with a public school district in Virginia.
Anticipating an overseas assignment with her spouse, this teacher ended her contract with her previous employer, but she has been unable to either accept a new contract at the overseas location or recommit to returning to the school district due to the uncertainty from the hold. She is stuck in limbo.
Two children of affected officers were disenrolled from their current schools due to an expected change-of-station move, but now they cannot enroll in a new school because the Senator from Alabama has blocked their move.
Three officers have chosen to move their families at their own expense, with no option to be reimbursed, to ensure that their children will be enrolled in school, in the hope that they will be reunited with their families after the Senator from Alabama has come to his senses.
Finally, yesterday, it was reported by the largest statewide news organization in Alabama that a petition signed by more than 550 military spouses was delivered to the Senator, calling on him to end his blockade and the harm it is doing to military families. The petition, organized by the Secure Families Initiative, called on Senate leadership to ``reiterate to Senator Tuberville the dangers and ramifications of this political grandstanding; work together to resolve political and ideological disagreements outside the military space; and expeditiously confirm all blocked promotions and fill existing vacancies.''
These are but a few of the tragic family costs being inflicted. These stories will increase significantly as we go into August, traditionally a month that many military families move to new duty stations and start new schools.
All of these effects are but the tip of the iceberg, snapshots and stories of those willing to share. The true impact of the Senator's actions may not be known for years. The destabilizing effect this has on the apolitical nature of military service is what keeps me up at night. The broader impact on our national security is incalculable.
In the U.S. military, there is a total of 852 general and flag officers. By the end of this year, we expect that 650 of them will need to pass through the Senate for promotion or reassignment. An additional 110 officers will be forced to perform two jobs simultaneously or will be assigned to a temporary position as a result of the Senator's holds. Thus, nearly 90 percent of our general and flag officers--our most senior military leaders--will be affected by the Senator from Alabama's holds.
Right now, our Nation faces an unparalleled threat from China, and violent, unstable Russia threatening all of our NATO allies. To not have our military leaders ready to command at a moment's notice is to flirt with disaster. The Senator from Alabama has achieved something that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin can only have dreamed of. I am sure they would have paid good money to achieve it, but they don't have to.
What disappoints me the most is the silence from my colleagues across the aisle. For 6 months, they have hardly said a word about the Senator from Alabama's antics. Do they not care? I know many of them do, and many of them disagree with what he is doing. So why are they not down here right now? I call on my colleagues across the aisle who support our military and American families to stand with us to help repair this affront to Senate tradition.
Tonight, my colleagues and I will discuss every military nomination on the Executive Calendar. We will read the names of each officer whose nomination has been blocked by the Senator from Alabama, along with a little bit about their backgrounds. Each of these officers has served decades in uniform, something the Senator from Alabama knows nothing about. Their lives have not been easy. I know firsthand that the nature of military life, even in the best of times, is difficult, punctuated with frequent moves, time away from family, and duties that are as demanding physically as they are mentally and spiritually.
This generation of general and flag officers has had it even harder than many. Most of these nominees have served the majority of their careers during a state of war. For 20 years, they fought in the Global War on Terror, and many of them fought in wars before that. They went where we asked them to go. They fought so other Americans--including most of us in this Chamber--wouldn't have to. We have never had a generation of military leadership whose entire professional development occurred during a period of constant conflict.
As I went through each of these officers' biographies, I was struck by the recognition and manifestation of their service. As you will hear, the Senator from Alabama is blocking the promotion of officers who have been awarded the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and every other significant award or recognition the Defense Department bestows.
He is blocking the promotion of officers with numerous combat tours of duty, including those who have been injured in combat.
He is blocking the nomination of a career Air Force officer who is an astronaut for NASA.
He is blocking the promotion of pilots who, collectively, have tens of thousands of flying hours and combat flying time. And with pilots, as we know all too well on the Armed Services Committee, they also have the option of flying commercially for the airlines. We can't compete with airlines on pay, but we have always competed on opportunity and mission. If opportunity and mission are compromised, patriotism will only carry one so far, particularly as the Senate's inaction is literally impacting the direct earnings of many of these nominees.
He is blocking the promotion of healthcare professionals who, like pilots, have lucrative private sector options that will look even more attractive as the thrill and satisfaction of a military career recedes.
He is blocking the promotions of combat commanders at all levels who have risen through the ranks with the expectation and hope of leading and mentoring the next generation of combat leaders to ensure the highest standards of military expertise and ethical conduct are passed on.
He is now blocking the confirmation of three members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Gen. C.Q. Brown, the nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Eric Smith, the next Commandant of the Marine Corps; and GEN Randy George, the next Chief of Staff of the Army.
On top of this, we have just received a historic nomination, the first female officer to be the Chief of Naval Operations, and we just received today the nomination for the next Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
He is blocking the nominations of a critical combatant commander, the commander of Cyber Command, who also serves as the Director of the National Security Agency. It strikes me that cyber and intelligence is not a place the Nation should accept any additional risk.
He is blocking the nomination of the next commander of the Navy's 7th Fleet, the largest of the Navy's forward-deployed fleets and which has responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific area of operation.
He is blocking the nomination of the next commander of the Navy's 5th Fleet, responsible for the naval and combined maritime forces in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea, under the overall command of U.S. Central Command.
He is blocking the nomination of the next U.S. military representative to NATO, who is the senior uniformed representative to NATO, during a time when NATO continues to provide critical support to Ukraine in its war against Russia and as NATO itself is expanding to counter the threat posed by Russia to our European allies.
He is blocking the next Superintendent of the Naval Academy during the summer months, when new service academy Superintendents need to be installed to ensure continuity from one academic year to the next. Traditionally, the Senate ensures this nominee is approved and in place in time for the next class of midshipmen to arrive and begin their Academy training, which started 4 weeks ago.
Now, even future officers who will be commissioned in 2027 are feeling the negative impact of one Senator's action. If we don't break this blockade soon, the Senator from Alabama will have tried his hand at decapitating the entire senior military leadership of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Finally, one last thing, none of the officers whose names we will read today played any part in promulgating the Department's policy with which the Senator from Alabama disagrees--a policy that, like it or not, is perfectly legal and is backed by 40 years of practice through the administrations of both parties. It is a policy aimed at taking care of our servicemembers, a large percentage of whom are women. This policy simply acknowledges that women's healthcare is important for military readiness too.
From President Reagan, whose Justice Department interpreted the newly enacted Hyde Amendment, through the first Bush administration, the Clinton administration, the second Bush administration, the Obama administration, the Trump administration, and now the Biden administration, the interpretation has been the same: This policy is legal.
Maybe my Republican colleagues were caught napping on this. Maybe they didn't bother to read the legal precedents. Maybe they didn't care to. Fine, I have no problem with my colleagues expressing disagreement with the Department's policy or pursuing legislative solutions to their problems. But do not take it out on the professional men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.
As the military spouses who petitioned the Senator from Alabama this week to lift his hold urged, we should engage and address these policy and ideological differences outside of the military space. We are debating the Defense bill right now. And as the majority leader has said publicly, we are not stopping the Republicans from voting on their bill to rescind DOD's policy. Let's have that vote.
Instead, the Senator has chosen to inflict as much financial and emotional pain as possible on the men and women of the Armed Forces in the hopes the Department will cave. If the Senator from Alabama actually cared about the military, he would find another way to demonstrate his political positions.
Release the hostages, Senator. It is time.