Back Pay Floated for Officers Whose Promotions Were Delayed by Tuberville While Handful Still Await Confirmation

Sunrise at the U.S. Capitol
Sunrise at the U.S. Capitol, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Generals and admirals whose promotions were delayed for months by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., could get back pay for the time they were waiting to be confirmed under bipartisan legislation unveiled Friday.

The bill comes as a couple of dozen officers are still waiting to be promoted despite the Senate clearing 425 nominees from the backlog earlier this week. In addition to 12 four-star nominees that Tuberville is still blocking, another Republican senator has said he is delaying a few military nominees over their support for diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Earlier this week, Tuberville announced he was largely ending the blockade he had maintained for 11 months on all general and flag officer nominees waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. He was using a procedural tactic known as a hold to protest the Pentagon policy of covering leave and travel for service members seeking abortions.

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While Tuberville did not win any changes to the Pentagon's abortion policy, he dropped his hold on nominees for three-stars and below amid growing pressure from his Senate Republican colleagues.

For officers who need Senate confirmation, the pay raise that comes with their promotion does not take effect until Senate approval. That means the officers caught in Tuberville's hold were losing out on thousands of dollars they otherwise would have been earning if the military confirmation process were running as quickly as normal.

Under a bill introduced Thursday, the officers delayed by Tuberville would get their raise retroactive to 30 days after they were first nominated. Time credit would also be applied to other benefits, such as retirement pay. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"The men and women who wear the uniform of the United States of America should not be negatively impacted by political squabbles," Rounds said in a statement Friday. "I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Manchin to do the right thing and provide military officers and their families with the benefits they have earned for their decades of service and sacrifice."

Tuberville, who for months incorrectly insisted the officers he was blocking were entitled to back pay and also sits on the Armed Services Committee, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The other co-sponsors are Sens. Angus King, I-Maine; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Tim Kaine, D-Va., who are also all Armed Services Committee members.

It's unclear if or when the Senate, which is scheduled to be in session for just one more week this year, will take up the bill.

Also unclear is when the Senate will confirm the remaining officers awaiting their promotions. Twenty-three generals and admirals are ready for a vote by the full Senate, according to the Senate's nominations website.

Eleven of those ready to be confirmed are the four-star nominees Tuberville is still holding. One of the four-stars subject to Tuberville's remaining hold still needs to be advanced by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Four others are being delayed by a new hold announced this week by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo. His office said he is objecting to the nominees' "stances or actions relating to divisive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs in the military."

"Sen. Schmitt has long been an advocate for eradicating these DEI programs, and hopes to resolve these issues to ensure that these divisive DEI programs don't continue to drive a wedge between military members and deepen the already existing recruiting crisis," Schmitt's press secretary, Will O'Grady, said in an emailed statement.

While Schmitt's office did not specify what actions or statements led him to block each officer, most of the ones Schmitt is holding up have been on lists of allegedly "woke" officers that conservative organizations circulated when they were cheering on Tuberville's blockade.

Actions that garnered the conservative criticism included establishing an on-base diversity office after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 and highlighting that Congress is majority male while speaking at an event celebrating women's suffrage.

Caught in Schmitt's hold are Brig. Gen. Paul Moga and Brig. Gen. Scott Cain, who were nominated to receive another star; Col. Benjamin Jonsson, who was nominated to get his first star; and Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, who was nominated for another star and to be the U.S. military representative to the NATO Military Committee.

Schmitt's hold also applies to Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, the nominee to lead Pacific Air Forces, who was already subject to Tuberville's lingering hold on four-star nominees.

The reasons for the delay on the remaining eight nominees ready for Senate floor action are unclear, but the chamber already appears to be making progress toward confirming them. One of the officers who wasn't confirmed in the batch of 425 approved earlier this week was later approved by voice vote Thursday afternoon.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., expressed hope any remaining concerns, including Schmitt's hold, could be quickly resolved, though he left open the possibility that some confirmations may not happen until after the new year.

"The quantity is less," Reed said Thursday when asked if Schmitt's hold is as big a concern as Tuberville's was. "We're gonna have to work through that."

Related: Hundreds of Military Promotions Approved by Senate Just Hours After Tuberville Releases His Hold

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