Military Spouses Deliver Petition Calling for End to Tuberville Blockade on Senior Officer Promotions

Sen. Tommy Tuberville speaks to reporters
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Military spouses are calling on senators to find a way to end the impasse over confirming military promotions, saying the political fight unnecessarily adds to the stress of military life for families -- even if they're not caught in the promotions delay right now.

The spouses, organized by advocacy group the Secure Families Initiative, delivered a petition Monday signed by more than 550 military family members to Senate leaders and Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., urging an end to Tuberville's blockade on confirming general and admiral nominees.

"My family, we have moved hither, thither and yon," Tonya Murphy, who is married to a Navy commander and helped hand-deliver the petition to senators Monday, said in an interview with "At this point, he's a geographic bachelor. He's living down in Hampton Roads, while I am living in Northern Virginia with our children for continuity of education, for professional opportunities.

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"So we fully understand there are some sacrifices you have to make, there's some decisions you have to navigate very carefully," Murphy continued. "But, I mean, when you're doing all of that to make it work, and then you have this kind of potential blockage hanging over your head at any point, it makes it all seem a lot less worth it."

Since late February, Tuberville has used a procedural tactic known as a hold to block confirmations of all general and flag officers over his opposition to the Pentagon's policy of covering leave and travel expenses for service members who need abortions. While a hold cannot prevent the Senate from confirming nominees, it requires the upper chamber to take individual roll call votes on each nominee rather than confirming them in batches with voice votes as it usually does for noncontroversial military promotions.

With more than 250 general and admiral nominees caught in the hold, it would take more than 80 days to confirm them all, Senate Democrats have said. Pentagon officials have said they expect about 650 nominees to be entangled in the hold by the end of the year.

As the hold nears its sixth month and starts to leave vacancies on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon officials and Democrats have been stepping up their pressure on Tuberville to relent.

Eight Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee sent their own letter Monday to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urging him to " take stronger action to resolve this situation."

"As the leader of the Republican Conference, we count on you to hold your colleagues accountable when they recklessly cross boundaries and upend senatorial order," read the letter to McConnell, which was organized by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

Tuberville has said he will drop his hold only if the Pentagon reverses its abortion policy or if Congress enshrines the leave and travel policy in law -- neither of which is likely to happen. Tuberville has been touting a letter signed by 5,000 people, including veterans, GOP House members and leaders of conservative advocacy groups, commending him for pushing back on a "left-wing social agenda."

The military spouse petition was delivered to McConnell, Tuberville and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The petition specifically calls on Senate leadership to impress upon Tuberville the "dangers and ramifications of his political grandstanding," to find a way to resolve the political fight "outside the military space," and to expeditiously confirm all blocked promotions.

Tuberville's hold has "inflicted direct harm to these service members and caused confusion and frustration for the entire military community," the petition said. "This political grandstanding is causing uncertainty for military families and directly threatens our national security."

In addition to weighing on her and her husband's conversations about his future in the military, Murphy said the Senate's fight over promotions has her oldest son, who is in the midst of his college search, rethinking whether he wants to attend a service academy or participate in ROTC.

And much like Gen. Charles "C.Q." Brown, the nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs, warned at a Senate hearing earlier this month that the "spouse network is alive and well," Murphy said military spouses are talking to one another about what Tuberville's hold means.

"The truth of it is that what affects one of us affects all of us in a lot of ways when it comes to big movements like this," she said. "And that's something that military spouses are always going to be discussing, is how do we navigate this? How do we support one another through this? And how do we advocate for ourselves and allow our voices to be heard on these subjects instead of being talked about?"

Despite Tuberville's public stance on his conditions for lifting his hold, Murphy said she is hopeful hearing directly from military spouses will help resolve the standoff. The petitioners had a "great" conversation with McConnell's staff Monday, she said.

McConnell's office did not respond to a request for comment about the petition or the conversation with the petitioners.

The spouses who delivered the petition also spoke with a military aide in Tuberville's office, Murphy said.

"He did take the time to listen to us and to hear us," Murphy said of Tuberville's staff. "As a military family member, it's always this point of comfort to be able to talk to a fellow service member because they get the acronyms, they get the pain. When we talk about the pain points, it's not an abstract idea to them because they understand it. It's their lives, as well. So, we appreciated getting to share that time with him."

Asked for comment on the petition, Tuberville spokesperson Steven Stafford told that "coach" -- as his staff refers to him in reference to his previous job as a college football coach -- "honors, and is grateful for, the service of all of our heroes in uniform."

"That is why he is working to get politics out of the military using the tools he has as a United States senator, including his hold," Stafford added.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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