Senate confirms army, marines chiefs as senator's objection blocks other military nominations

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Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti's nomination for reappointment to the grade of admiral and to be Chief of Naval Operations, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON – The Senate has confirmed three top military leaders, filling the posts after monthslong delays and as a Republican senator is still holding up hundreds of other nominations and promotions for senior officers.

Thursday afternoon, Gen. Randy George was confirmed as Army Chief of Staff, and Gen. Eric Smith was confirmed as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Gen. CQ Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, putting him in place to succeed Gen. Mark Milley when he retires at the end of the month.

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Democrats are still trying to maneuver around holds placed on more than 300 nominations by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. Tuberville has been blocking the Senate from the routine process of approving the military nominations in groups, forcing Democrats to bring the nominations up one by one — a process that could take months and delay other priorities.

The Senate usually holds roll call votes to confirm top Pentagon leadership such as Brown, George and Smith. But lower-ranking promotions and nominations are always approved in large groups by unanimous consent, meaning no objections from senators. Tuberville has upended that tradition by objecting, and he has said he will continue to object unless the Pentagon reverses its new policy of paying for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care.

In an effort to force Tuberville’s hand, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had originally said he would not move any of the nominations, including the top leaders, until Tuberville lifted the holds. But Tuberville has dug in, repeatedly coming to the floor to object to the nominations.

On Wednesday, Schumer reversed course and said the Senate would hold votes on the three military leaders. “Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head on,” Schumer said.

The other two nominated service leaders for the Navy and Air Force have not gotten votes yet. Adm. Lisa Franchetti is the current vice chief of the Navy and Gen. David W. Allvin is the vice chief of the Air Force. Franchetti is currently serving as acting chief.

The blockade has frustrated members on both sides of the aisle, and it is still unclear how the larger standoff will be resolved. Schumer did not say if he would put additional nominations on the floor.

George, nominated by President Joe Biden in April, was confirmed on a 96-1 vote. The current vice chief of the Army, he is also a highly decorated infantry officer, who commanded at all levels and did multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been focused on efforts to modernize the Army and revamp recruiting as the service expects to fall short of its enlistment goal this year.

Smith is a highly decorated Marine officer who has been involved in the transformation of the force to be better able to fight amphibious wars in the Pacific after years of battling terrorist groups in the Middle East. He was confirmed on a 96-0 vote.

Nominated by Biden in May, Smith is the assistant commandant and a career infantry officer who has commanded at every level and served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, including time in Fallujah and Ramadi during heavy combat in 2004 and 2005 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A host of military officers have spoken out about the damage of the delays for service members at all levels. While Tuberville’s holds are focused on all general and flag officers, the delays block opportunities for more junior officers to rise.

Shortly after the Senate vote, George was sworn in by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth.

“While this is a great day for the Army, I am keenly aware that hundreds of apolitical military officers still have their nominations blocked in the Senate by a blanket hold,” Wormuth said, adding that the holds are “discouraging signal for the talented junior and field grade officers as they contemplate their future as senior Army leaders.”

After Brown was confirmed, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the holds are endangering national security and military readiness.

“It is well past time to confirm the over 300 other military nominees," Austin said in a statement.

In a closed, classified Senate briefing on the Ukraine war Wednesday evening, Austin again took the opportunity to criticize Tuberville's holds.

“It wasn't flattering, but I'm sure he's a little disgusted by what's going on,” Tuberville said Thursday. “It doesn't bother me.”

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Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed to this report.