Why is a football coach-turned-senator blocking US military promotions – and what does it have to do with abortion?

Tommy Tuberville has so far shown no sign of relenting on his stance  (AP)
Tommy Tuberville has so far shown no sign of relenting on his stance (AP)

Democrats are continuing to seethe about a hold placed on military promotions caused by Senator Tommy Tuberville, saying the Alabama Republican is effectively “aiding and abetting” America’s enemies.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI) told The Independent that if the holds continue, up to 90 per cent of generals could be either in an acting or temporary capacity. He’s not the only one either.

“He needs to end it this is this is a place our nation's in a place where, you know, essentially, he's aiding and abetting our adversaries,” Sen Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a combat veteran who lost both of her legs after her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, told The Independent.

But Ms Duckworth also blamed the freshman Senator from Alabama’s Republican colleagues.

“They will say to us they don't support what he's doing, but that is who's gonna be able to get him to to drop these holds is going to be [Senate Minority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell and my Republican colleagues,” she said.

Mr Tuberville, for his part, shows no signs of stopping his one-man campaign.

Mr Tuberville’s move is a no-holds-barred reaction to a decision by the defence department earlier this year.

In February, the Department of Defense announced that it would provide administrative absence and travel allowances for US service members who are seeking abortions if they are based in a place where abortion is not easily accessible.

“A Service member who has confirmed their pregnancy and chooses to delay pregnancy notification to appropriate command authorities will notify the appropriate command authorities no later than 20 weeks gestation, unless notification must be made prior to 20 weeks gestation in the circumstances,” the memo said.

The memo also said that service members would be provided with medical non-deployment status.

The policy came after the Supreme Court announced its Dobbs v Jackson decision, which overturned Roe v Wade and caused numerous Republican states to pass abortion bans up to six weeks.

In response to the defence department’s announcement, Mr Tuberville, a freshman Senator from Alabama and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the same month that he would place a hold on all military and civilian nominations before the committee in protest.

“The Secretary of Defense is following through with his radical plan to facilitate thousands of abortions a year with taxpayer dollars,” he told Fox News at the time. “So, I will follow through with my plan to hold all DoD civilian, flag, and general officer nominations that come before the US Senate.”

The consequences have already been significant. Earlier this year, Gen David Berger stepped down from his post as commandant for the US Marine Corps, leaving it without a commandant for the first time in more than 110 years.

In total, Mr Tuberville’s hold has blocked more than 300 promotions. Last month, when Admiral Mike Gilday retired as Chief of Naval Operations, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned the hold but did not specifically name Mr Tuberville.

“Because of this blanket hold, starting today, for the first time in the history of the Department of Defense, three of our military services are operating without Senate-confirmed leaders,” he said in a speech. “This is unprecedented, it is unnecessary, and it is unsafe. This sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness. It’s hindering our ability to retain our very best officers and it is upending the lives of far too many American military families.”

Last week, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post criticising the move by Mr Tuberville, who did not serve in the US military and was previously a football coach.

“Across the services, many generals and admirals are being forced to perform two roles simultaneously,” they wrote. “The strain of this double duty places a real and unfair burden on these officers, the organizations they lead and their families.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also criticised Mr Tuberville’s actions.

“I don’t support putting a hold on military nominations, I don’t support that,” he said in May.

But Mr Tuberville’s hold has already created a massive backlog. This week, a report from the Congressional Research Service said that it would take the Senate approximately 700 hours to invidually process and vote on the nominees Mr Tuberville has blocked, CNN reported.

Mr Tuberville, who first won election in Alabama in 2020 largely on the back of his being the head football coach for Auburn University, told reporters he did not intend to back down and took umbrage with the secretaries who said he was aiding and abetting US enemies.

“Disappointing that somebody would do that,” he said. “That would just come out and say that and they know that's not true.”