Impacts of Tuberville’s military holds will be felt for years

While Sen. Tommy Tuberville's blockade of military nominations is over, the impacts of the holds will be felt for years to come.

When Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) spoke from the Senate chamber floor in December about his hold on military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion policy, he defended his decision, saying he “had to stand up to what was going on.”

“I hated to do it. These people needed promotions. But somebody needs to wake up in the White House and the Pentagon that they cannot dictate policy here in the U.S. Senate. So I put a hold months ago on admirals, generals and civil nominees. A few months went by – a few months became 11, and we’ve had that hold ever since they put that policy in place,” Tuberville said.

Since the start of the blockade over his opposition to a Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for travel expenses to seek reproductive care, including abortion and in vitro fertilization services, the senator insisted that halting promotions would strictly impact the most senior military leaders.

But defense officials, lawmakers and military organizations say the cascading impacts of the holds will be felt for years to come.

Blue Star Families, a non-profit organization, asked service members and their spouses about the impacts the blockage was having on their families.

In a poll conducted in September, 609 participants who identified as active-duty service members (11%), active-duty spouses (58%), veterans (16%) and spouses of veterans (7%) were asked about their likelihood to recommend military service to family members, their likelihood to continue military service and their satisfaction with military service.

Out of 331 respondents, 27% said they were directly impacted by the promotion block. Those affected by the blockade were located at duty stations nationwide and registered to vote in 27 states, with the largest portions registered to vote in Florida, Virginia and Texas. Impacts were reported in each military branch and in both the active and reserve components.

While families have been reluctant to share their experiences, anonymous accounts of hardships endured included service members having to move their families at their own expense to make sure their children were enrolled in school and officers living in temporary housing and paying storage costs out of pocket while waiting on the hold to be dropped.

“If you are a military family, in the summertime, you pretty much know you’re selected for your next duty station. So you’re already making plans to move by the end of the summer. But you’ve got kids that are ending their school year. They’re getting ready to start the next school year and they are already enrolled most of the time in these new schools at the new duty location. Well, that family can’t move. So those kids are in limbo,” Tom Porter, the vice president of government affairs at Blue Star Families, told Federal News Network.

“Then those same families have more than likely ended their lease at their current location or might have to stay in a hotel and might have to put their items in storage. And many times, they’ve also entered into new leases at their new locations. But of course, they can’t start that lease and they might have to be paying for them even before they’re moved.”

The survey found that 57% of currently-serving family respondents said the promotion block decreased their likelihood of recommending service to a young family member. For those directly impacted by the promotion block, the number increased to 77%.



Nearly half of the currently serving family respondents said the promotion block decreased the likelihood that their family would continue service, and more than three-quarters of those directly impacted by the blockade say it decreased their likelihood to remain in military service.


The poll found that 63% of currently-serving family respondents said the blockade decreased their satisfaction with military service. In addition, the number increases to 87% for those directly impacted by the blockade.


“This has an incredible impact on retention in the military at a time when our military is being challenged more than ever to meet its recruiting goals. When we should be doing everything that it takes to keep service members and their families who’ve been serving the longest, to keep them in the service, we are discouraging them from moving forward and making them more than ever want to reconsider serving,” Porter said.

“We’ve normalized chaos within the military family, and that just contributes to dissatisfaction with serving in uniform. When you don’t fund the government, when you use the military as political pawns, that has an adverse impact on our national security, and it will ultimately cause military families to rethink whether or not they continue in their service and whether or not they will recommend service to their family and friends.”

GAO to review the impacts of Tubeville’s military nominations blockade

The Government Accountability Office’s investigation might provide a comprehensive review of the impacts of the senator’s 10-month blockade.

In a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) asked the agency to review short- and long-term effects of the senator’s hold on military readiness, national security and military families.

“The work will begin soon,” GAO spokesperson Chuck Young told Federal News Network. 

Two congressmen also asked the agency to identify processes the Defense Department relies on when military promotions are stalled for prolonged and indefinite periods of time. 

“We encourage that effort. We wish that was a bipartisan effort that’s called for here. But regardless of who’s behind it, we need to know the exact impacts on our military families, both short-term and long-term,” Porter said.

But just because Sen. Tuberville’s 10-month hold has ended, any single senator who has an objection to a policy can block military promotions. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), for example, put a two-week hold on all military promotions in July 2020.

“This is possible again,” Porter said. “Maybe some people think that this was impactful for Sen. Tuberville. He certainly didn’t get his way. But we’re going to be watchful to make sure that this never happens again by the way we mobilize our members to share their opinions with Congress.”

Nearly Useless Factoid

By: Michele Sandiford

31  of the nation’s presidents have served in the military.


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