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Secretaries Blast Tuberville

The leaders of the U.S. military are supposed to be apolitical, so they don't often take to the pages of The Washington Post to attack a sitting United States senator. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And so, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth did exactly that yesterday, taking Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) to task for his one-man freeze on military promotions, which he imposed because he does not like the military's willingness to pay travel costs for women members who are seeking abortion services.

Let us start by reminding readers that what makes this one-man show possible is the number of promotions the Senate has to vote on each year (basically, anyone being promoted to major/lieutenant commander, or higher). There is no plausible way for the senators to give careful consideration to hundreds of officers, and so they are generally handled by unanimous consent, which only takes a few seconds or a minute for each promotion. If a candidate is problematic for some reason, or is being promoted to a particularly important post (say, Chair of the Joint Chiefs), then the Senate will slow things down and take a careful look. But that's less than 1%, usually. What Tuberville is doing is denying unanimous consent for all promotions, not just the problematic/extremely important 1%. Some key promotions could be done through regular order, but it would require multiple hours for each one, and would also allow Tuberville to block the rest ad infinitum.

The op-ed from the secretaries raises half a dozen key points:

  1. The lack of promotions has left some high-ranking officers spread thin, as they do multiple jobs.
  2. The lack of promotions means acting leaders, who don't have the full powers of their posts.
  3. The lack of promotions is hurting the image of the U.S. military abroad.
  4. Tuberville is politicizing the military, which is a bad idea.
  5. The policy Tuberville opposes, assistance with abortion services, is important to retention and readiness.
  6. If a senator does not like a policy, he or she has many legitimate tools for trying to change that policy; parliamentary tricks are not among those legitimate tools.

The conclusion: "We believe that the vast majority of senators and of Americans across the political spectrum recognize the stakes of this moment and the dangers of politicizing our military leaders. It is time to lift this dangerous hold and confirm our senior military leaders."

The three secretaries backed their op-ed with TV appearances in which they shared their unhappiness with the Senator's behavior. Del Toro was particularly pointed, explaining that as someone "born in a communist country, I would have never imagined one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting a communist and other autocratic regimes around the world." This followed a discussion of how Chinese officials are laughing at their American counterparts, in case you are wondering which communist regime Del Toro was specifically referring to.

Tuberville responded to Del Toro's remarks thusly:

It is concerning that you got people that are in secretary positions like that, that would say something like that in our country, instead of getting on the phone and calling me and saying "Coach, what are you doing?" It just makes no sense.

We will point out that Tuberville's proposal, namely that the apolitical heads of the branches of the military should be calling him and/or lobbying him, would seem to cross some lines that shouldn't be crossed. On top of that, they know full well what he's doing, and that he has no intention of changing course no matter how many phone calls he gets. Finally, the "Coach" bit of that really sits... badly. He is no longer a coach, he is a United States Senator. The whole "I'm a folksy guy who is tossing a football in my official photo" is OK for messaging purposes, we suppose, if a bit corny. But it's clear that he still sees himself as "Coach" more than as "Senator." And the problem is that coaches are dictators unto themselves, where the only thing that matters is if they keep winning.

This is the mindset that has allowed and caused Tuberville to instigate this situation. We presume that Alabamians are happy with his prioritizing one relatively limited dimension of abortion policy above all else. And the Senator has decided that as long as Alabama "wins" here, that's all that matters. Of course, it means the Pentagon is losing right now. And in 2024, he's going to become a poster child for Republican extremism on abortion, which will mean that the GOP will also join the list of losers. But he's not going to back down, because that's not what football coaches do in the face of adversity. This being the case, it's hard to see how this gets resolved at this point, unless the Senate changes the rules. (Z)

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