The Senate voted to confirm Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday, an initial step toward breaking a monthslong logjam that has left more than 300 senior military promotions in limbo.
The 83-11 vote came after Sen. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer filed cloture on Brown’s nomination as well as the nominations of Gen. Randy A. George to be chief of staff of the Army and Gen. Eric M. Smith to be commandant of the Marine Corps. The Senate also invoked cloture on George’s nomination on Wednesday.
Schumer’s actions came after Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., indicated Tuesday he was going to submit a cloture petition himself on Wednesday that would have forced a vote on one of the nominees. Tuberville has had a blanket hold on senior military promotions for more than six months in protest of a Pentagon policy that reimburses servicemembers who must travel for reproductive care because they are stationed in states that have banned abortion.
The votes are the first tangible sign of a shift in an ongoing stalemate between Senate Democrats and Tuberville, whose blockade has led to three vacancies among the Joint Chiefs, with officers filling top roles in the Navy, Marine Corps and Army in an acting capacity.
Republicans have spent months pleading with Schumer to hold votes on critical jobs at the Pentagon left unfilled, while Democrats have insisted that Republican leaders handle the issue of Tuberville’s intransigence themselves. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he opposes his Alabama colleague’s gambit but has stopped short of calling on fellow Republicans to vote with Democrats to override the hold.
Tuberville had planned to force a cloture vote on Smith’s nomination, his spokesman Steven Stafford said Tuesday. Doing so would have required submitting a petition signed by at least 16 senators, potentially circumventing Schumer’s refusal to schedule a vote.
But Schumer appeared to preempt that plan by instead making his own move in the latest round of political maneuvering.
“Due to the extraordinary circumstances of Sen. Tuberville’s reckless decisions, Democrats will take action,” Schumer said. “It’s not the path the vast majority of senators on either side of the aisle want to go down. But Sen. Tuberville is forcing us to confront his obstruction head-on.”
Like Brown’s nomination, the nominations of Smith and George have bipartisan support and will likely sail easily to confirmation. But hundreds of less senior nominations remain ensnared, ensuring that a situation that’s become a headache for Democrats and Republicans alike isn’t going away anytime soon.
“My hold is still in place,” Tuberville said on the floor. “It will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place.”
Democrats had, for weeks, resisted holding votes on the blocked nominees, concerned that doing so could incentivize future holds of noncontroversial nominees who are normally confirmed by unanimous consent with little fanfare.
Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, continued to rail against Tuberville’s stand after the Senate took up Brown’s nomination.
“Senate Democrats are looking for every opportunity to get our military officers promoted,” Reed said in a statement. “Today, Leader Schumer outmaneuvered Senator Tuberville and again exposed his hold for the absurd, dishonest political stunt it is.”
Tuberville’s staff, however, framed Schumer’s move as a win for their cause.
“Proves what @SenTuberville has been saying all along,” tweeted Hannah Eddins, Tuberville’s press secretary. “Schumer can bring up individual nominees for a vote ANYTIME he chooses.”
Mark Satter contributed to this report.