The United States Senate has appointed General CQ Brown as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the highest decision-making bodies in the nation’s military.
Wednesday’s 83-11 vote came months after President Joe Biden first nominated Brown for the post, as Democrats try to maneuver around a protest led by Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.
Since February, Tuberville has excluded the Senate from its routine process of approving military nominations in batches, as part of an effort to pressure the Pentagon to change its abortion policy.
Tuberville’s objections have frustrated Democrats, who initially said they would not go through the time-consuming process of putting individual nominations forward for a vote. More than 300 nominees are stuck in the Tuberville blockade, and it would take months to confirm them one by one.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed course on Wednesday. He tried to force votes against Brown, but also against General Randy George and General Eric Smith, who have been nominated as chief of staff of the US Army and commander of the US Marine Corps, respectively.
“Senator Tuberville is forcing us to confront his obstruction head-on,” Schumer said. “I want to make it clear to my Republican colleagues: this cannot continue.”
Tuberville did not object to the confirmation votes, saying he would maintain his position but is happy to bring nominations up individually for roll call votes.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Brown’s confirmation, along with this week’s expected votes on Smith and George, is positive news. But “we should never have been put in this position,” he said.
“While it is good for these three officers, it does not solve the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other generals and flag officers held up by this ridiculous hold,” Kirby told reporters.
Brown, a career fighter pilot, was the first black commander of the Air Force’s Pacific Air Forces and, most recently, the first black chief of staff, making him the first African American to lead any of the military branches. His appointment will also mark the first time that the Pentagon’s top two posts will be held by African Americans, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as the top civilian leader.
Brown, 60, replaces Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Mark Milley, who is retiring after four decades of military service. Milley’s four-year term as chairman ends September 30.
Tuberville said Wednesday he will continue to block the other nominations unless the Pentagon ends its policy of paying for travel when a service member must leave the state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The Biden administration introduced the policy after the Supreme Court struck down the nation’s right to abortion. Some states have restricted or banned the procedure.
“Let’s take it one by one or reverse the policy,” Tuberville said after Schumer put the three nominations up for a vote. “Let’s vote on it.”
In an effort to force Tuberville’s hand, Democrats had previously said they would not vote for the top nominees while the others were still tied up. “There’s an old saying in the military: Leave no one behind,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed said in July.
But on Wednesday, Schumer said in a frustrated Senate speech that he had no other choice.
“Senator Tuberville is using them as pawns,” Schumer said of the nominees.
The votes come as a large number of military officers have spoken out about the damage the delays are doing to service members. While Tuberville’s assets are aimed at all generals and flag officers, they have career impact for the Army’s younger rising officers. Until every general or admiral is confirmed, this blocks the opportunity for a lower-ranking officer to ascend.
That affects salaries, pensions, lifestyles and future assignments – and in some areas where the private sector will pay more, it becomes harder to convince those highly skilled young leaders to stay.
The blockade has frustrated members on both sides of the aisle and it is still unclear how the larger impasse will be resolved. Schumer did not say whether he would bring up additional nominations.
The months-long waits have turned into a complicated procedural back-and-forth in recent days.
Tuberville claimed victory after Schumer’s move, even though the Pentagon’s policy remains unchanged.
“We called them and they blinked,” he told Schumer reporters.