U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

November 4, 2023

Coach Tuberville Needs a Time Out

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

For years, I have given my staff strict instructions that we may voice vehement disagreement with the policy positions or policy-related actions of other senators or lawmakers, even the president, but we will not attack an individual’s character or personal choices. They call it Cardinesque. I call it civility.

Some days, though, it is really hard to hold my tongue and not ask a fellow senator, “what the heck are you doing?” These days, I’m not the only one asking that question of Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville

For the last eight months he has singularly had a hold on a growing number of hundreds of military promotions for senior nonpartisan officers from all service branches. It’s wrong and Senator Tuberville is the only person who won’t admit it and change course.

Right now, at the Pentagon and across the country, hundreds of general and flag officers for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Space Force await Senate-confirmed leadership. It’s deep into the school year and they and their families are stuck in stasis, along with the men and women chosen to lead major operational commands, including the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Cyber Command, Space Command, Air Combat Command, Naval Reactors. All of these positions are important. Local commands include the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and key positions at Fort Meade. 

If this blanket hold continues until the end of the year, the Department of Defense has determined that 89 percent of all senior officer positions will be affected.

Such deliberate political posturing would be short-sighted at any time, but when Ukraine is at war defending democracy against Russia, Israel is battling Hamas after a horrific terror attack, U.S. forces are being fired upon from Yemen, and Iran and China are on edge, we cannot leave the greatest military force in the world with “acting” commanders around the globe.

The Senate has been able finally to confirm all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – some as recently as a few days ago. But with 364 senior positions still in limbo, it would take over the entire Senate schedule for a more than a year to confirm everyone individually.

The strain has been glaring, especially this week when we learned that Marine Commandant Eric Smith had an apparent heart attack after working 18-hour days while holding down two high-level positions because of the vacancies created by Senator Tuberville. To make things worse, the usual chain of command had to be adjusted to determine an acting commandant because the usual successor was still awaiting Senate confirmation to the position. General Smith is recovering well, and on Thursday, the Senate confirmed the promotion of Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to general and the Marines’ assistant commandant. It never should have gotten this bad though.

Senior leaders across the military are chosen for their specific postings based on their decades of expertise and experience. They deliver non-partisan advice to the President of the United States, National Security Council and Secretary of Defense. Lives are at risk daily, especially with so many hot zones around the world. If a position is filled with an acting commander, or someone dual-hatted and therefore stretched thin or otherwise distracted, as well-trained and qualified as they may be, their counsel may not carry the same trust and confidence as an officer who was vetted and specifically selected to fill the command.

Make no mistake about it: our national security is at risk because of Senator Tommy Tuberville’s singular blockade against a policy that has little to do with abortion and everything to do with supporting our service members and their personal health care needs.

The only thing that should matter for the Senate to fulfill its duty of “advice and consent” is whether these military officers are qualified for the position for which they have been nominated. Senator Tuberville clearly has no understanding the military, and the serious, long-term damage he is causing. He may have been able to brush off such criticism in the first few weeks, but eight months later, the harm is undeniable.

I am not alone in being fed up with Senator Tuberville’s blanket hold. Just this Wednesday, four Republicans, all of them military veterans – Senators Dan Sullivan, Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham and Todd Young (USNA ’95) – went down to the floor of the Senate to try to confirm some 61 military promotions over a four-and-a-half-hour period. Senator Tuberville objected to each one, just as he objected in June when I tried to have Admiral Yvette Davids confirmed as the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.

On Thursday, the Deputy Secretary of Defense Luara D. Taylor-Kale said, “we’ve said many times that the hold is unprecedented and unsafe. We have seen tragic effects of that stress … It’s wrong and it is absolutely hurting readiness.”

Coach Tuberville – because he likes to be called Coach and not Senator – what else can we do or say to make you understand the seriousness of what you are doing? If you will not listen to Democrats, listen to your own party. Listen to the Pentagon.

What started as a misdirected block is truly creating scoring opportunities for the other side. Our rivals, China, Russia and Iran, are sitting back and laughing at the self-inflicted fouls we are committing.

Coach, you need a time out. Let us confirm all of the military officers who have been innocent victims of your beef with the Department of Defense.

No coach would keep their best players on the sidelines during a bowl game. As a nation, as a global power, we cannot afford to keep our best military men and women on the sidelines during one of the most volatile periods this nation has faced in decades.

I plan to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find the second-most efficient and expeditious way to end this senseless blockade. The best way is for Senator Tuberville to stop this absurdity and pick a different play.

Thank you for your time. I will keep you apprised as this crisis continues. Please reply to this email with your thoughts on this and any other topic. We love reading your emails.


Ben Cardin