Pacific Fleet, Indo-Pacific Command Nominees Blocked by Senate Hold

Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler, left, still awaits confirmation to head U.S. Pacific Fleet (USN file image)

Published Dec 6, 2023 2:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

Four top U.S. Navy command positions remain stalled in the Senate because of a blanket hold placed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), even though the majority have now been released. sd

On Wednesday, Sen. Tuberville partially ended a 10-month blockade on all military promotions. Promotions and appointments for uniformed officers are usually uncontroversial and passed en bloc, but earlier this year, Sen. Tuberville announced that he would place a blanket hold on this process unless the Pentagon stops reimbursing female servicemembers for travel expenses when they need to travel to another state to obtain reproductive care or an abortion. “I cannot simply sit idly by while the Biden administration injects politics in our military from the White House and spends taxpayers’ dollars on abortion,” he explained, insisting that the block would not affect military readiness.

Senators have historically used the hold when they object to individual appointees, but Tuberville used it to prevent more than 400 promotions at once, including the appointment of new Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti. The Senate confirmed a handful of appointees individually, but the bulk of new generals and admirals across the Department of Defense were held up until Wednesday, when Sen. Tuberville said that he would end his hold for all posts of three stars and below. He told reporters that it was "a draw," and the Pentagon policy on abortion travel reimbursement has not changed.  

Within hours, the Senate moved to confirm more than 425 senior officer nominees en bloc. 

11 four-star positions are still affected by Sen. Tuberville's hold, including several posts that are mission-critical for the U.S. Navy. The new heads of U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command are awaiting confirmation, leaving the Navy's largest and highest-priority region without their long-term leadership. The posts of Vice Chief of Naval Operations and Commander of Naval Reactors are also unconfirmed. 

Sen. Tuberville's full-scale hold was controversial within his own party, but he resisted internal pressure for months. “No matter whether you believe it or not, Senator Tuberville, this is doing great damage to our military," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in rare direct criticism in November. “We have courts. If you think they’ve [the White House] done something illegal, go to court. That’s how you handle these things.”