Senate confirms CQ Brown as next Joint Chiefs chairman after vote sidesteps Tuberville blockade

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(WASHINGTON) — Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. was confirmed on Wednesday night with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and will become only the second Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is America’s top military officer.

Brown was confirmed by a vote of 83-11.

With his ascension to serve alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the country’s top two Pentagon posts are held by Black men. Colin Powell was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Brown’s confirmation comes just before the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, is set to retire.

The vote played out against a surprising development as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier Wednesday set votes to circumvent a monthslong blockade on military promotions — of Brown and hundreds of others — by Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

In comments to a pool camera just before Brown’s confirmation vote, Tuberville said he was “glad we’re making some progress” on getting nominees confirmed.

“It’s a win for Congress and it’s a win for the legislative branch,” he said.

Confirmation for two other nominees, Randy George and Eric Smith, is expected in the coming days. But Tuberville’s hold remains in place for roughly 300 military nominees.

Tuberville has been blocking all military confirmations since February over a Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for out-of-state travel to access abortions.

The limbo has created what some Pentagon and Biden administration officials — as well as congressional Democrats — have argued is a national security crisis.

Tuberville has been able to gum up the works in the Senate by withholding his consent to move forward with confirming nominations in a bloc, insisting that if Democrats wished to advance nominees, they would need to do them one-by-one. That would break with Senate precedent on how nominations are confirmed.

Schumer has always had the option to sidestep Tuberville by moving nominees individually, but he was previously insistent that doing so would risk politicizing the military and would play into Tuberville’s hand.

For the last eight months, it’s been a stalemate.

On Wednesday, Schumer relented on his hard-line stance.

He took the first step to sidestep Tuberville and proceed to final votes on several key military nominees, including Brown, Gen. George, nominated to be Army chief of staff, and Gen. Smith, nominated to be Marine Corps commandant.

“I wish we were not in this position. I wish my Republican colleagues who do care deeply about keeping our military strong were able to prevail on Sen. Tuberville to completely change his tactics,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “This is not a sustainable path. Sen. Tuberville’s continued abuse of his privilege will continue to disrupt the lives of hundreds of our nation’s finest and most dedicated military officers and their families. And while Democrats didn’t choose this fight, we are ready to put an end to this sooner rather than later.”

In July, Schumer told ABC Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that giving in to Tuberville’s tactics could lead other senators to use nominees as bargaining chips. The burden to dissuade Tuberville was on Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Thune, he said.

“We cannot let the burden be falsely on our shoulders,” Schumer told Scott. “If we start doing this, they’ll do it for everything. Someone could get up and say until affirmative action is abolished I’m holding up everybody.”

Schumer’s decision Wednesday to move forward with confirming three individual nominees comes just one day after Tuberville announced his intention, during a closed-door Republican lunch, to escalate his tactics.

Tuberville had planned on using a most-unusual procedural technique which would have essentially allowed him to get around his own objection to force a vote on a single military nominee on the Senate floor.

The procedural move would have been in an effort to show the tools Schumer has at his disposal to move individual nominees, something Tuberville has been arguing for months that Schumer ought to do.

In floor remarks, Schumer said the proposed move from Tuberville demonstrates his becoming “more and more desperate to get out of the box he has put himself in.”

“He is desperate to shift the responsibility on to others. But I’ve made it clear that we will not allow anyone to shift this on to Democrats,” Schumer said. “The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the senior senator from Alabama.”

The step Schumer took Wednesday does little to overcome Tuberville’s larger blockade that is still holding up hundreds of nominees.

If Schumer wished to confirm all of the nominees that are waiting on the Senate floor one-by-one, as he plans to do with these top-tier officials, a recent memo from the Congressional Research service found it could take as many as 89 8-hour workdays, during a time when Congress must manage a number of other priorities, including funding the government before Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown.

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