The letter criticizes the DOD for issuing a memo four days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.
Led by Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), the lawmakers criticized Mr. Austin for expanding his June memo on Oct. 20, 2022, to include authorizing the payment of travel expenses of service members’ dependents seeking abortions.
The senators also note that, “the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness confirmed that this policy extends to late-term abortions,” during congressional testimony in July 2023.
The senators demanded that Mr. Austin rescind both policies.
“All legislative power is vested in Congress, and the executive branch is responsible for implementing and enforcing the law. While the department may issue regulations, it can only do so under the laws authorized and enacted by Congress,” the letter states.
A letter from 27 senators that might otherwise seem only a mere policy dispute is, in fact, part of a much bigger backstory involving the apparent efforts of Mr. Austin and his boss, President Joe Biden, to pack the top ranks of the U.S. military command structure with generals and admirals with leftwing political views.
It also involves the longstanding determination of Senate Democrats to gut the power of individual senators to force compromise on controversial policies and nominations by putting a “hold” on them. As long as a senator maintains a hold, the Senate is prevented from considering nominations en masse. Instead, it has to hold roll call votes on each nomination or promotion one by one—a more time-consuming task with hundreds of nominations.
In most of its history, such holds have most frequently involved judicial nominations, and only rarely military appointments.
At the center of the tussle is Sen. Tommy Tuberville, the first-term Republican from Alabama, who is likely better known to most Americans as the former winning coach of the Auburn University football team.
Elected in 2020 following a GOP primary win over former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a general election victory over the incumbent Democrat, Mr. Tuberville is a fervent supporter of the right to life and is opposed to federally funded abortions.
Responding to the Austin directives, Mr. Tuberville warned the defense secretary in December 2022 that if he proceeded, he would exercise his Senate prerogative to place a hold on all DOD civilian and military nominations because the policy is “illegal, circumvents Congress, and exceeds your authority.”
When Mr. Austin ignored the warning, Mr. Tuberville, on Feb. 16, 2023, issued his hold on all DOD civilian and general/flag officer nominees.
The Epoch Times reached out to the DOD for comment.
Senator Holds, Uproar Follows
Twelve times in the months thereafter, Democrat senators, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.), have sought the Senate’s unanimous consent to hundreds of President Biden’s DOD appointees.
Mr. Tuberville exercised his hold every time, thus blocking the nominations. A steadily swelling uproar of criticism of Mr. Tuberville ensued.
“These positions are too important to delay filling while one senator prioritizes politics over military readiness,” President Biden said. “In this moment of rapidly changing security environments, Senator Tuberville is risking our ability to remain the greatest fighting force in the world.”
Initially, only Democrats blasted the Alabama Republican, but on Nov. 1, five of his GOP colleagues took to the floor in what turned into a series of personal attacks. The five included Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd Young of Indiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
At one point in the barrage, Mr. Sullivan addressed Mr. Tuberville, who was sitting nearby in the Senate chamber, saying, “So, again, my colleague is saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry. There’s no problem. No readiness problems.’ No offense, but that’s just ridiculous. And he knows it. We all know it.”
At another point, Ms. Ernst said, “I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honor their word.”
The Iowa Republican was referring to a claim that Mr. Tuberville had in some sense agreed to back off his holds, but in fact, he had been trying for months to persuade the Biden administration to negotiate a compromise. Neither the president nor Mr. Austin or any other administration official relented.
Despite the intense criticism from the five Republicans, Mr. Tuberville continued to object to every request for unanimous consent to the nominations and he was by no means without significant support.
Former President Donald Trump commended him, as did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice-President Mike Pence, multiple House Republicans, including several former Navy Seals, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts, Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance, and 5,000 U.S. military veterans in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Sen. Mike Lee, the Utah Republican who is a stalwart defender of the holds, told The Epoch Times that “Senator Tuberville has taken a heroic stand for the unborn and Republicans attacking him are wrong. President Biden could resolve this situation within minutes by directing DOD to stop illegally using American tax dollars to fund abortion tourism.”
Changing the Rules
The procedural change, authored by Mr. Reed, is a narrowly tailored Standing Order resolution allowing the Senate with only a simple majority vote to take up groups of military nominations despite an individual senator’s hold.
Col. Kareem P. Montague, Deputy Commanding Officer
Having been approved by the rules panel on a party-line vote, the Reed resolution is all but certain to pass. Critics say the nation’s military readiness will be seriously harmed as a result.
“Montague went on to say ‘sometimes you have to shut down a city bus line to point out the obvious. We’d love to have a nuanced debate on CSPAN, but most of you who are blissfully ignorant of a particular issue would miss it. You’re too busy watching football.’ He says that ‘A system of de facto and de jure segregation has created a long standing imbalance in our country. As a result, there is a general advantage to being white in this country,'” AAF continued.
Another example unearthed by AAF is Air Force Lt. Gen. Scott Pleus, who used a training video following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody to initiate a Critical Race Theory (CRT)-based conversation among those under his command. In the video, Mr. Pleus explained his calling on an African-American subordinate with whom he had a long-standing friendship to join him because “I am not the face of diversity.” Mr. Pleus has been nominated for staff director for the Air Force in the Pentagon.
In a third example from AAF, Rear Admiral Derek Trinque endorses the censoring of individuals who post what he called “sexist jokes, racist jokes, whacko conspiracy theories.” He also “promoted an article about how ‘Racial Tension in America Requires Intrusive Military Leadership’ and embraces [Diversity/Equity/Inclusion] DEI” training for members of the military.
Changing the Senate
AAF president Thomas Jones said he worries that the passage of the Reed resolution will reduce the ability of the Senate as a whole as well as the ability of individual senators.
“The Senate was famously described as the saucer where legislation from the House cools. That analogy applies equally well to rash appointments of a tranche of officers in the military. The Senate needs to be a check on hasty appointments from the President,” Mr. Jones told The Epoch Times.
“More frustrating, the solution to this problem is shockingly simple. The Senate goes to the floor and debates and votes on these promotions. The U.S. Senate held 16 votes last week—all week—and that was a busy week. If Senators cannot handle a schedule of regular voting every day, they should probably look for a new job,” he added.
There is also concern that passage of the Reed resolution would set a precedent for future Senates to expand the scope beyond military nominations to include other nominations throughout the federal government.
“If we pass this Standing Order, will we see passage of another that says you can confirm ambassadors in a group, you can confirm judges in a group,” said a senior Senate management staff member who asked not to be named.
It also opens the possibility that legislation could be passed in a group, thus preventing open debate and critical examination of bills before Congress, the staffer told The Epoch Times. “That would be bananas because, at that point, you would be rewriting the legislative filibuster, which is crazy.”
“It is a misfortune incident to republican government, though in a less degree than to other governments, that those who administer it may forget their obligations to their constituents, and prove unfaithful to their important trust,” according to Number 62.
“In this point of view, a senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing the power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government. It doubles the security to the people, by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy, where the ambition or corruption of one would otherwise be sufficient.”