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SASC carries on with nomination hearings despite ongoing hold

Tuberville’s blockade of senior military promotions has held up confirmation of more than 300 general and flag officer selections

Gen. David Allvin, nominated to be the Air Force’s next chief of staff, testifies during his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in the Dirksen Building on Tuesday.
Gen. David Allvin, nominated to be the Air Force’s next chief of staff, testifies during his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in the Dirksen Building on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Gen. David Allvin, President Joe Biden’s pick to be the Air Force’s next top officer, breezed through his nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, even as panel members acknowledged that he likely wouldn’t be confirmed anytime soon. 

That’s because of Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s ongoing blockade of senior military promotions, which has held up Senate confirmation of more than 300 general and flag officer selections over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. 

Though most senators sidestepped the topic during Allvin’s hearing, those who didn’t dug into their respective camps, with Democrats calling for an end to the hold and Republicans pushing chamber leadership to schedule individual votes on the Defense Department’s top brass.  

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., argued that lawmakers “could also easily confirm” Allvin if Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., would bring his nomination to the floor. 

“I don’t think it would be too much to ask for the Senate to spend a little bit of time confirming four-star general officers to positions like chief of staff of the Air Force or commandant of the Marine Corps or chief of naval operations,” he said. 

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., countered that blaming Schumer for the current nomination buildup is “laughable.” And he suggested that it would be against the military’s ethos to approve a few top-level nominees while hundreds of others await floor action. “That seems to be the offer that’s being made by the GOP: vote on the top brass and punish everybody else,” he said. 

Some Democratic defense hawks in recent weeks have eyed avenues around Tuberville’s blockade, particularly as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley prepares to step down from his post later this month at the end of his four-year term. His replacement, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, is awaiting floor consideration that may never come. 

But Democratic leaders have maintained their opposition to holding individual nomination votes. Schumer said last week he would not allocate floor time to consider Brown’s nomination, although nominations on such a senior level often get individual votes. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., decried Tuberville’s actions on Tuesday, saying they’ve “become a national security nightmare.” 

“Instead of trying to embarrass the United States in front of its allies and trying to embolden our enemies, the senator from Alabama should lift his holds and let our top military leaders do their jobs,” she said. 

Sen. Ted Budd, however, defended his colleague, noting that Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III could bring an end to the hold “with the stroke of a pen.”

Tuberville has vowed to continue his blanket hold until either the DOD rescinds its abortion policy, which reimburses servicemembers who must travel out of state to obtain reproductive health care, or Congress passes it into law. 

“By this afternoon, we could have this resolved if Secretary Austin would revert to the historical policy that we’ve had for decades in the Pentagon,” said Budd, R-N.C. 

The debate is likely to continue Thursday, when the Armed Services Committee will next convene to hold a hearing on Adm. Lisa Franchetti, who has been tapped to serve as the chief of naval operations. As the current vice chief, she’s already filling the role in an acting capacity following the former CNO’s retirement last month. 

For his part, Allvin expressed concern that Tuberville’s hold would hurt recruitment and retention efforts because it could be seen “as a distraction to the normal way of doing business.”

If confirmed, Allvin would oversee the continued modernization of the Air Force, building off of Brown’s “accelerate change or lose” mantra to upgrade the existing fleet and invest in new capabilities in an effort to maintain air dominance in the face of competition from both Russia and China. 

During the hearing, Allvin acknowledged that his nomination has coincided with what he believes to be a “very important time in history.” 

“I fully appreciate and embrace the weight of what is at stake,” he added. 

Allvin, who has worked as the service’s vice chief of staff since November 2020, would bring to the post strategy, policy and planning experience from roles over the last decade at U.S. European Command, the United Nations and the Pentagon. He previously commanded at the squadron and wing levels and has also helmed NATO’s air training command in Afghanistan.

Following Tuberville’s questioning of Allvin during the hearing Tuesday, the Alabama Republican expressed his support for Allvin’s nomination. “I wish they’d bring you to the floor today, I’d vote for you to be confirmed,” Tuberville said. “Hopefully that happens in the near future.”

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