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Gen. C.Q. Brown confirmed as top military officer despite Tuberville's roadblock

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nominee General Charles Brown Jr., arrives in the Capitol after his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee in July.
Bill Clark
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CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nominee General Charles Brown Jr., arrives in the Capitol after his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee in July.

Updated September 21, 2023 at 2:39 PM ET

Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown has been a combat pilot and chief of the Air Force in a distinguished military career that's spanned four decades.

His latest mission — and one of his more challenging ones — was winning Senate confirmation as chairman of the Joint Chiefs despite the efforts of Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who has been blocking hundreds of other military nominations.

To get past Tuberville's months-long hold on nominees, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., forced a full Senate vote on Brown, who was confirmed on Wednesday evening, 83-11. The chamber voted Thursday on two more military nominations.

Senate Democrats moved to circumvent Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has maintained a months-long hold on hundreds of military promotions.
Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Senate Democrats moved to circumvent Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has maintained a months-long hold on hundreds of military promotions.

Brown's confirmation comes just days before the outgoing chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, is required to step down after four years in the post.

Brown elevation also comes at a crucial moment in the war in Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with House and Senate members on Wednesday morning, and then visited the Pentagon.

Zelenskyy is calling for additional military assistance as Ukraine presses an offensive against Russian troops in the south and east of his country. The Biden administration is seeking a new round of military, financial and humanitarian aid totaling $24 billion.

Most members of Congress have supported such assistance to this point. But there's growing opposition from far-right Republicans to additional support.

Another challenge facing Brown are the hundreds of other military officers still awaiting Senate confirmation for their promotions. They are normally approved, quickly and easily, in large batches. But Tuberville has halted the process for the past several months.

He is holding up the nominations because he objects to a Pentagon policy that helps military service members travel to receive abortion care if they are stationed in a place where abortions are restricted.

More than 300 nominations are currently frozen, and that number could double by the end of the year, according to military officials.

Schumer can call a vote on each individual nomination, though the process would be extremely time consuming and there's no sign it will be done on a large scale.

The Senate on Thursday confirmed the nomination of Gen. Randy George to be chief of staff of the Army by a vote of 96-1 and later, by a 96-0 vote, Gen. Eric Smith to be commandant of the Marine Corps.

John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Wednesday that approving a few top officers would be a positive step, but not enough to solve the larger issue.

"It doesn't fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold," Kirby said.

He added that the progress on these nominations was "good for the United States Marines, certainly good for the United States Army and good for the joint staff. But it ain't good enough for U.S. national security. These holds need to be lifted all, of them."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 21, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous version of this story said Gen. Eric Smith was confirmed in the Senate by an 83-11 vote. The nomination was approved 96-0.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.