Senate confirms Army and Marine chiefs, bucking Tuberville logjam

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The showdown has also ensnared the nominees for Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David Allvin; the chief of naval operations, Adm. Lisa Franchetti; the head of the Missile Defense Agency, Maj. Gen. Heath Collins; and the nominee for the Pentagon’s top policy post, Derek Chollet.

Smith was the Marine Corps’ No. 2 officer and has commanded at every level, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a general, he led Marine Corps’ forces in U.S. Southern Command, as well as Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

George was the Army’s vice chief of staff and before that was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s senior military aide. He is an infantry officer who served in the 101st Airborne Division and deployed in support of the Gulf War.

George was confirmed 96-1, with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) casting the sole “no” vote.

President Joe Biden nominated both generals in the spring and they each stepped into their service’s top role on an acting basis during the summer, when their predecessors retired.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for months has refused to hold standalone votes on military nominees to get around Tuberville’s hold, but reversed course Wednesday and agreed to hold votes on the three top picks after Tuberville forced Democrats’ hand by planning to force a vote on Smith.

Questions are swirling about Democrats’ strategy for getting the rest confirmed, but Schumer was tight-lipped, telling reporters only “You’ll see.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the onus is on Republicans to get Tuberville to relent.

While Tuberville has insisted for months he’s felt no pressure from Democrats or his own party, Democrats cast his move to advance a vote for Smith as him bowing to Republican critics, and said they seized the chance to advance all three officers.

“But there are still 300 military officers in limbo, and that’s detrimental to the United States,” Reed said. “There are so many other people like Gen. George who are suffering and their families are too … It’s solely forced by [Tuberville’s] desire to make [military] officers tokens in political battles — and it’s wrong, and we’re going to push and push and push.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) called the remaining vacancies “untenable” and noted that advancing the officers will leave three new senior vacancies.

“We’re taking three steps forward and three steps backward,” said Duckworth, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “These are three very important jobs but there are 300 other jobs that are also important to our national security.”

More than 300 senior promotions are still frozen as Tuberville refuses to allow their speedy confirmation. Tuberville has insisted Democrats can just simply hold votes on individual picks, but Democrats and the administration have noted that to do so would take hundreds of hours and totally dominate the Senate’s calendar.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden ally, said more votes in groups of two or three would not be appropriate. He credited the progress on Wednesday and Thursday to Republican pressure on Tuberville and said it should continue until there’s a broader breakthrough.

“There was some modest movement — we will have confirmed just three of 300, the most significant and senior but just three,” Coons said. “And we also just had a demonstration of what would happen if we actually proceed with confirming every one of them. It would shut down the Senate for a year and we would get nothing else done.”

Tuberville, claiming victory, said will continue to demand that each nominee be considered individually until the Pentagon policy is reversed.

“So, to be clear, my hold is still in place,” Tuberville said Wednesday. “The hold will remain in place as long as the Pentagon’s illegal abortion policy remains in place. If the Pentagon lifts the policy, then I will lift my hold. It’s as easy as that.”

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