US Senate approves three military promotions, despite Republican's blockade

A handout photo of U.S. Navy Admiral Lisa Franchetti

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate approved three high-level military promotions on Thursday, sidestepping one Republican senator's months-long blockade of hundreds of promotions.

The Senate approved Admiral Lisa Franchetti as Chief of Naval Operations and General David Allvin to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force by a 95-1 vote. Lieutenant General Christopher Mahoney was confirmed by 86-0 as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Franchetti becomes the first woman to command the Navy and be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

All three were nominated for promotion months ago, but they were delayed by a "hold" from Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville over government funding to cover travel costs for abortions for service members and their dependents.

Tuberville allowed Mahoney's nomination to go ahead after General Eric Smith, the Marine Corps commandant, had an apparent heart attack. He allowed the other two promotions to proceed after Republican senators circulated a petition that would have forced a vote.

Tuberville's actions have affected nearly 400 officers and their families, as well as lower-level officers in the military. Pentagon leaders said the holds threatened national security.

Democrats said Tuberville should show his objection on a policy matter by targeting Biden nominees involved with policy. But Tuberville refused to relent, insisting Democrats could end his blockade by considering the promotions one by one. That process could take months.

'GREAT DAMAGE TO OUR MILITARY'

The issue erupted on Wednesday night, when several of Tuberville's fellow Republicans denounced his action, accusing him of unfairly targeting military personnel.

"Why are we putting holds on war heroes?" Republican Senator Dan Sullivan asked during the floor debate.

Senator Lindsey Graham said the issue was harming efforts to recruit and retain the troops. "No matter whether you believe it or not, Senator Tuberville, this is doing great damage to our military," Graham said.

After the Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a constitutional right to abortion, the Pentagon said it would cover travel costs for service members seeking abortions and up to 21 days off.

Several states have limited abortion access since Roe was overturned, and the military argues that women service members should not be denied access to abortion services because they cannot choose where they are stationed.

The rest of Tuberville's holds could end within weeks. Democratic Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed has introduced a resolution to suspend the Senate rule to allow votes on multiple military nominations all at once, but only through the end of next year.

The Senate could pass that resolution within the next several weeks.

Although the review of military promotions is usually routine, a single senator can pause the process by putting a hold on nominations that force them to be considered one at a time, taking many hours each.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Grant McCool)