As the war in Israel intensifies, the White House will accelerate its efforts to break the blockade on Pentagon promotions that Sen. Tommy Tuberville has kept in place for more than six months, arguing that the Alabama Republican’s “selfish stunt” amounts to “a windfall to our adversaries.”
Tuberville has shown no sign of relenting even as the United States rushes munitions to Israel and sends American armed forces to the region, insisting that the “hold is not affecting our military’s readiness.”
President Biden’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, noted Wednesday that the commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which patrols Middle Eastern waters, has not been relieved on schedule because his replacement, Rear Adm. George Wikoff, remains in Senate limbo.
Conflict in Israel, Kirby told RealClearPolitics, “just highlights how dynamic the security environment is around the world and how much more critical it is that the leadership of the military be able to address that dynamism through the normal promotion process.”
Republicans have backed Biden’s efforts to support Israel after a Hamas terrorist attack last weekend left more than 1,200 Israelis dead and killed 22 American citizens. For his part, Tuberville has said that Israel “has a right to go” into the Gaza strip to root out the terrorist organization. The senator cautioned Tuesday during an interview with a local Alabama Fox affiliate, however, that “the problem is, when you start picking sides in the Middle East, it can get really messy very quick.”
In a White House memo obtained by RCP, the administration seized on that comment as “outrageous” and evidence that Tuberville, a former college football coach in his first term in office, was not only “directly sabotaging the American military” but also expressing weakness “after Israel endured horrific terrorist attacks from Hamas.”
“When it comes to the horrific events in Israel, President Biden knows which side he’s on,” stated the memo authored by White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates. “Sen. Tuberville should look in the mirror and then follow the President’s lead.”
“How many memos are we up to now,” Tuberville’s office replied. “A dozen at least?”
“This memo will have the same impact as the previous memos from the Biden comms staff: none whatsoever,” Tuberville spokesman, Steven Stafford, told RCP. “Coach’s hold is not affecting our military’s readiness. No job is unfilled, and no job is going undone. The hold is certainly not affecting the militaries of other countries.”
“This has to be the Left’s most ridiculous attack yet, but unfortunately the lamestream media has bought it completely,” he said before adding, “You should ask the Pentagon if they believe our military is not ‘ready at a moment’s notice.’”
Acrimony had already set in on both sides well before the Hamas attack. For months, Tuberville defended his hold on the promotions of hundreds of military officers in protest of a new Pentagon policy that reimburses servicemembers for abortion-related expenses. Democrats are welcome to bring the new Pentagon abortion policy up for a vote itself, he has said in response to the criticism, or confirm the promotions one by one.
Republicans running for president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, have previously expressed their support for the blockade, and the issue has become a sort of red line for 2024 candidates seeking the GOP nomination.
If the Senate was to take up each military promotion one at a time as Republicans say Democrats are welcome to do, the Congressional Research Service estimates that the process would consume approximately 700 hours of floor time.
The Senate did vote in September to confirm the promotion of the Marine Corps commandant and Army chief of staff, proving according to Tuberville that the upper chamber can still meet its obligations to offer advice and consent.
The White House previously told RCP that the updated abortion policy is critical for military readiness. If soldiers are stationed in states like Alabama with restrictive abortion laws, Kirby told RCP in July, then some servicemembers may decide to leave the military. “That means we lose talent, important talent,” he said before adding that ensuring abortion access “is just the right darn thing to do for people who raise their hand and agree to serve in the military.”
Tuberville has received a fair share of incoming. In an open letter published last May, former defense secretaries from both Republican and Democratic administrations warned that the blanket hold “risks turning military officers into political pawns.” More recently, former CIA Director Michael Hayden raised eyebrows by suggesting that more drastic measures may be needed.
When asked if Tuberville should be removed from the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hayden responded on social media Monday, “How about the human race?” The senator called the comment “disgusting” and tantamount to an endorsement of “politically motivated assassination.” His office referred the issue to Capitol Police.
“Regardless of any delusions Sen. Tuberville is under, this is not a game. The stakes for America’s military could not be higher,” the White House responded. “And the abhorrent Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel are an inescapable reminder that Tuberville is intentionally undermining our military readiness in th