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The anti-abortion senator blocking the Pentagon

Republican politician Tommy Tuberville has stalled more than 260 military appointments due to his protest of the Defense Department’s abortion policy

Tommy Tuberville
Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville attends the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nomination of General Randy George on Wednesday.MICHAEL REYNOLDS (EFE)
Iker Seisdedos

Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville is a man of priorities. At the top of his list is stopping the U.S. army from supporting service members who want to have an abortion. For the politician from Alabama, this goal is more important than appointing a new U.S. military leadership at a time when the country is facing its biggest geopolitical threats in recent history.

Since February, Tuberville has been blocking more than 260 Pentagon promotions for high-ranking officers. He says that he will not lift his objections until the Pentagon ends its abortion policy, which gives troops a few days off for reproductive health care — including abortion — and covers their expenses if they or their dependents need to travel because they are stationed in states where access to abortion is prohibited or restricted.

The new policy, announced in February, is in response to the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973. It is now up to each of the 50 states to establish their own laws on reproductive health. At least 26, including Alabama, have already chosen to restrict abortion rights. Since troops cannot decide where they are stationed, the Pentagon issued the new rules to reflect this change.

Tuberville, a former football coach who was elected senator in 2020, has made it clear time and time again that he has no intention of budging, even if for the first time in a century the Marine Corps is operating without a Senate-confirmed commandant, and despite the fact that more than half of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will need to be replaced in the coming months. Not even knowing that military power vacuums aren’t exactly advisable given the tensions with China and Russia is enough to sway him.

The most urgent case is that of the Air Force Chief of Staff, General C.Q. Brown, who was picked by U.S. President Joe Biden to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs, replacing Mark A. Milley, whose term ends in September. “We will lose talent,” Brown warned senators at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. He also predicted that Tuberville’s indefinite blockade of senior appointments will mean that less experienced commanders will end up temporarily occupying key positions, and argued that increasing the family and financial burdens of soldiers is not a good strategy for the future.

Meanwhile, the U.S. army is struggling to enlist new recruits. General James McConville, the Army Chief of Staff, told The Associated Press that the armed forces are expected to recruit more than 50,000 soldiers this year, up from 2022, but still far below the stated target of 65,000. The end of McConville’s term is also coming up, but as a result of Tuberville’s blockade, there is no sign that his replacement, Randy George, will be confirmed by the Senate by the time he leaves office in August.

Are white nationalists racist?

Several Republican senators have tried unsuccessfully to sway Tuberville, who also made headlines this week for something other than his stubbornness. The Alabama senator has been at the center of a media storm over statements he made about white nationalists. Tuberville had told a local radio station that it was a matter of “opinion” whether white nationalists were racists. When questioned about these comments by CNN on Monday, the senator replied: “My opinion of a white nationalist, if somebody wants to call them a white nationalist, to me, is an American.”

The next day, however, as reporters collected statements criticizing Tuberville from both Democrats and Republicans, the senator backed down. On this issue, at least, he relented, telling reporters in the Capitol that white nationalists “are racists.”

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