Sen. Tuberville Spoke With Defense Secretary Austin On Officer Holds After Allegedly Declining Call

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville discussed his hold on officer promotions with the secretary of Defense briefly on Thursday afternoon, a Pentagon official confirmed.

Confirmation comes after Tuberville, who has complained that the White House has not sought engagement over his tactic of stalling officer promotions in protest of a Department of Defense (DOD) abortion policy, allegedly declined a phone call from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, CNN reported. The defense secretary reiterated concerns over the impact of the hold on military readiness and urged him to lift the hold, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing Thursday.

“At Secretary Austin’s request he did briefly speak with Senator Tuberville to discuss the unprecedented and blanket hold the senator has placed on general and flag officers,” Ryder said. “Austin explained to Senator Tuberville the impact the holds are having to military readiness and uncertainty in the force.” (RELATED: ‘I Hire For Diversity’: Pentagon Nominees Blocked By GOP Senator Are Pushing Left-Wing Initiatives To Reshape Military)

Thursday’s brief conversation follows a conversation initiated at Austin’s request earlier this year, Ryder said. Tuberville’s congressional staff have also communicated with DOD staff on the issue, he added.

The pair agreed to speak again next week, according to the Pentagon.

Tuberville said he appreciated the conversation, calling it “cordial” and “productive,” according to Yellow Hammer News.

However, his office initially declined Austin’s request to speak on Thursday, citing a tight schedule, CNN reported. “I’ve been on the run. I haven’t been in the office all day,” he said, adding that he would speak to the Pentagon soon but declining to specify when.

This ain’t going nowhere. They have all kinds of problems,” Tuberville told CNN.

I don’t know. I haven’t heard from him in five months, but I’ll get with him,” Tuberville said, referring to Austin, according to CNN.

The Pentagon is ratcheting up the pressure on Tuberville to relent his hold on officer promotions, CNN reported. Roughly 265 senior officers remain in limbo as the senator refuses to participate in a mass-confirmation process that dramatically accelerates the timeline to move general and flag officers into new positions or higher ranks.

Now-retired Marine Corps Gen. Berger stepped down as Commandant of the Marine Corps on Monday, leaving the service without a confirmed commandant for the first time in more than a century. Such a vacancy breaks down the well-defined command chain of command that serves as the backbone of the military, Ryder said Thursday.

The hold also has trickle-down effects on families and lower-level officers awaiting changes to their ranks, grades and duty stations, he added.

Ryder said he was “not aware” of any overarching guidance “per se” regarding how the military departments and commands would manage work shortfalls resulting from Tuberville’s hold.

Tuberville maintains the tactic doesn’t jeopardize security, as jobs are still being done, according to CNN.

The Alabama senator has pledged never to relent unless DOD rescinds a rule allowing federal funds to reimburse travel-only expenses for servicemembers going out of state to obtain abortions and a handful of other covered procedures, CNN reported. The policy is a thinly-veiled way to subvert the law banning the government from directly funding abortions, he argues.

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