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DOD Officials Highlight Risks to Force Posed by Senate Nomination Hold

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III underscored the risks to national security posed by the ongoing blanket hold on Senate confirmations for hundreds of military nominees in a brief phone call today with Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks in a room in front of an American flag.
Warsaw Remarks
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks during a news conference at the Ministry of Defense in Warsaw, Poland, Feb. 18, 2022.
Photo By: Chad J. McNeeley, DOD
VIRIN: 220218-D-TT977-0305W

During the conversation, which took place at the secretary's request, Austin explained the impact the lawmaker's holds are having on military readiness and uncertainty within the force, Department of Defense Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing at the Pentagon.  

"This conversation also follows a call initiated by Secretary Austin earlier this year, as well as ongoing engagement at the staff level," Ryder said. "The two did agree to speak again next week." 

Tuberville has placed a hold on Senate confirmation for hundreds of general and flag officers throughout the DOD over disagreements with the Pentagon on its uncovered reproductive health policy.  

As many as 265 general and flag officer nominations have been delayed in the Senate as a result of the hold.  

Among those general officers pending the Senate's confirmation, is Marine Corps Gen. Eric M. Smith, who earlier this week took over as acting Commandant of the Marine Corps. 

Smith replaces Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger who relinquished his position after four years of serving as Commandant.

An aerial view of the Pentagon with the Washington Monument in the background.
Photo Shoot
An aerial view of the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., May 15, 2023.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. John Wright, DOD
VIRIN: 230515-D-KY598-1341

The last time the Marine Corps had an acting commandant was more than a century ago, when Col. William Biddle served as in acting capacity from Dec. 1, 1910, to Feb. 2, 1911. 

Austin underscored the negative impacts further delays in confirming the next commandant would have on Marine Corps and on national security during the Berger's relinquishment of command ceremony on Monday. 

"Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history," Austin said.   

 "We have a sacred duty to do right by those who volunteer to wear the cloth of our nation," he said.   

Should the hold remain in place, as many as 650 critical leadership positions could be vacant by year's end, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said during a briefing earlier this week. 

In an interview with Fox News' Neil Cavuto following today's call between Austin and Tuberville, Singh said the impact to military readiness caused by the holds comes at a critical time.

A woman speaks from a lectern.
Press Briefing
Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Nov. 17, 2022.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Alexander Kubitza
VIRIN: 221117-D-PM193-2227

As the U.S. faces the growing pacing challenge posed by China and responds to Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine, "we need our best team on the field," she said.  

"These are our nominees who have incredibly important jobs all around the world, who are working with our partners and allies," Singh said. "And it sends a message to our adversaries." 

Singh said Pentagon officials are hopeful that their ongoing engagement with Tuberville continues and encourages the Senator to lift his hold.  

She added that DOD policy surrounding uncovered reproductive care has not changed, and that the Pentagon is not "making concessions or changing our policy" in light discussions over the Senate holds.  

"Our policy is very clear, we're trying to ensure equity across the service to all of our service members who live in states that they have the same rights as service members that live in other states," she said in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd.  

"This is not a political fight," she added. "This is about our general and flag officers, our nominees — from four-star generals down to one-star generals — who deserve to be in the positions that they have been selected in."

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