The US Senate has filled three top military vacancies after an eight-month delay brought on by one Republican’s objections to Pentagon abortion policy.
Senior promotions are typically confirmed by the Senate in large groups, but over 300 nominees have been held up by Senator Tommy Tuberville.
The one-man blockade prompted the Senate to process a trio of key positions on a one-on-one basis.
Mr Tuberville declared victory, noting such an option had long been available.
The Democratic leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, moved on Wednesday to confirm General Charles Brown as the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top uniformed officer.
Gen Brown replaces outgoing General Mark Milley, who is slated to retire at the end of the month.
The Senate approved his nomination by 83-11, with Mr Tuberville and a handful of Republican colleagues voting no.
Mr Schumer also moved to process the key nominations of General Randy George as Army chief of staff, and General Eric Smith as commandant of the Marine Corps. Both were serving in an acting capacity.
On Thursday, the chamber confirmed both men’s nominations, unanimously in Gen George’s case and with only one no vote against Gen Smith.
“We cannot allow Senator Tuberville to decide which of our dedicated and brave service members get promoted and which get to languish,” Mr Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor.
Typically, the upper congressional chamber fast-tracks and confirms military nominations all together at once with broad bipartisan support, via a process known as unanimous consent.
But a single senator can prevent it, and the Alabama lawmaker has done so since February in objection to a US Defence Department abortion policy.
The policy, enacted late last year, provides service members and their dependents with leave and travel stipends so they can get abortions across state lines.
Mr Tuberville says this violates a ban on taxpayer-funded abortion.
The Biden administration has said it is a key healthcare benefit for women who live in states that have restricted abortion access since the Supreme Court last year rescinded a constitutional right to pregnancy terminations held by US women for half a century.
Members of both parties have spoken out against Mr Tuberville’s actions, but he has refused to relent unless the Pentagon reverses course or Congress votes on the policy.
Neither has the Pentagon shown any sign of backing down.
As a result, all three branches of the country’s military have for the first time been simultaneously operating without Senate-confirmed leaders, which critics argue jeopardises national security.
The number of nominees caught up in the standoff could double by the end of the year.
Taking a victory lap in the chamber before the vote, Mr Tuberville argued that Democrats had caved by taking a step that had been available to them all along.
“It’s about time,” he said. “I’ve called for individual votes on these nominees for almost six months. Chuck Schumer refused again and again and again.”
While Mr Schumer could theoretically confirm nominees on an individual basis, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that doing so would eat up nearly 700 hours of floor time in the Senate.
Unanimous consent is “the only way to process multiple nominations quickly”, the CRS said in a memo on Tuesday.
Source : BBC