The United States Senate has confirmed General CQ Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the highest decision-making bodies in the country’s military.
Wednesday’s 83-11 vote came months after President Joe Biden first nominated Brown for the post, as Democrats try to manoeuvre around a protest led by Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville.
Since February, Tuberville has blocked the Senate from its routine process of approving military nominations in groups, as part of an effort to pressure the Pentagon to change its abortion policies.
Tuberville’s objections have frustrated Democrats, who initially said they would not go through the time-consuming process of bringing up individual nominations for a vote. More than 300 nominees are stalled amid Tuberville’s blockade, and confirming them one by one would take months.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reversed course on Wednesday. He moved to force votes on Brown, as well as on General Randy George and General Eric Smith, who are nominated to be US Army chief of staff and US Marine Corps commandant, respectively.
“Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head-on,” Schumer said. “I want to make clear to my Republican colleagues – this cannot continue.”
Tuberville did not object to the confirmation votes, saying he would maintain his holds but is fine with bringing up nominations individually for roll call votes.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that Brown’s confirmation, along with this week’s expected votes on Smith and George, is positive news. But “we should have never been in this position”, he said.
“While good for these three officers, it doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold,” Kirby told reporters.
Brown, a career fighter pilot, was the Air Force’s first Black commander of the Pacific Air Forces and, most recently, its first Black chief of staff, making him the first African American to lead any of the military branches. His confirmation will also mark the first time the Pentagon’s top two posts were held by African Americans, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as the top civilian leader.
Brown, 60, replaces Joint Chiefs Chairman Army General Mark Milley, who is retiring after four decades in military service. Milley’s four-year term as chairman ends on September 30.
Tuberville said on Wednesday that he will continue to hold up the other nominations unless the Pentagon ends its policy of paying for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The Biden administration instituted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion. Some states have limited or banned the procedure.
“Let’s do one at a time or change the policy back,” Tuberville said after Schumer put the three nominations up for a vote. “Let’s vote on it.”
In an effort to force Tuberville’s hand, Democrats had previously said they would not vote on the most senior nominees while the others were still stalled. “There’s an old saying in the military: Leave no one behind,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed said in July.
But on Wednesday, in a frustrated speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said he was left with no other choice.
“Senator Tuberville is using them as pawns,” Schumer said of the nominees.
The votes come as a host of military officers have spoken out about the damage of the delays for service members. While Tuberville’s holds are focused on all general and flag officers, they carry career impacts on the military’s younger rising officers. Until each general or admiral is confirmed, it blocks an opportunity for a more junior officer to rise.
That affects pay, retirement, lifestyle and future assignments – and in some fields where the private sector will pay more, it becomes harder to convince those highly trained young leaders to stay.
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.
The months-long holds have devolved into a convoluted procedural back-and-forth in recent days.
Tuberville claimed victory after Schumer’s move, even though the Pentagon policy remains unchanged.
“We called them out, and they blinked,” he told reporters of Schumer.