Three U.S. military services are now operating without Senate-confirmed chiefs, a situation which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called “unprecedented” and “unsafe” as Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military confirmations treks on. 

The Alabama senator has shown no signs of stopping his now months-long blockade in protest of a Pentagon abortion policy – even as polling shows a majority of voters in his state have grown weary. 

What You Need To Know

  • Three U.S. military services are now operating without senate-confirmed chiefs amid Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on military appointments

  • On Monday, the Navy joined the Army and the Marine Corps in acting without a confirmed leader 

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday officially stepped down from his post on Monday, resulting in the Navy joining both the Army and the Marine Corps in acting without a confirmed leader. 

President Joe Biden nominated Gilday’s replacement weeks ago, but his pick, Adm. Lisa Franchetti – who would be the first woman in the role – is now one of about 300 military confirmations in waiting. She will serve as the acting chief as she awaits her Senate confirmation.  

Tuberville has been holding up military confirmations for about six months in response to a Pentagon policy that pays travel expenses for service members who are forced to travel out-of-state to obtain an abortion.

The Alabama senator argues federal funds and taxpayer dollars should not be used for a policy regarding abortion. But the Pentagon, along with the White House and Democratic allies, has repeatedly condemned Tuberville's action, saying it's actively harming the military. 

“For the first time in the history of the Department of Defense, three of our military services are operating without Senate confirmed leaders,” Austin said at Gilday’s relinquishment ceremony on Monday. “This sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness. It is hindering our ability to maintain our very best officers.” 

“Our troops deserve better.” 

Tuberville’s office shot back at Austin, arguing the blockade is not affecting readiness and is precedented – pointing to other lawmakers across the aisle who have held up appointments. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., for instance, blocked military promotions for about two weeks in 2020 until she got assurances  that the Pentagon would not block the promotion of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for his role in then-President Donald Trump's first impeachment.

(For her part, Duckworth, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost both legs in the Iraq War, said last month on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Tuberville's blockade "jeopardizing our nation's ability to lead the free world.")

Tuberville has spoken more than once with Austin about the blockade, but no movement has appeared to come out of the conversations. 

A poll by Public Policy Polling conducted earlier this month found 58% of those surveyed in Alabama thought Tuberville “has made his point and should now allow senior military promotions to move forward.” Asked about the implications of the one-man blockade, 55% said they believe it hurts national security. 

The White House and Democrats have lambasted Tuberville’s move for weeks, with President Joe Biden last month calling it “a growing cascade of damage and disruption.” 

Several Republicans have also spoken out against the Alabama senator’s hold. Senate GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he doesn’t support the hold, and Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services committee have lobbied the Kentucky Republican to intervene.

The Washington Post reported all five of the Defense Department’s branches are being impacted by the blockade.