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White House criticizes Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on military nominations

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said removing the Pentagon's abortion policy would have an “extremely significant impact” on recruiting and retention.
Image: White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing in the James S Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on July 17, 2023.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks at the daily briefing at the White House on Monday.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday reiterated criticisms of Sen. Tommy Tuberville's blockade of hundreds of military nominations and again called on congressional Republicans to speak up.

"A cascading effect of delayed promotions threatens to brain-drain from the military," Jean-Pierre said. "And military families do not know where they will live, where spouses will work, where children will go to school."

Jean-Pierre also referred to previous statements Tuberville, R-Ala., has made about supporting the military, saying, "Sen. Tuberville from 2021 and 2022 should intervene with 2023 Sen. Tuberville, because clearly there's a problem here."

Tuberville has halted the normally routine process for military promotions in Congress as part of his objection to a Defense Department policy supporting service members and dependents seeking abortions.

He said last week that he would consider lifting his holds if the abortion policy were put to a vote in Congress and if the White House and the Pentagon agreed that the policy would be removed if the vote were to fail.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that not having the Pentagon's abortion policy would have an "extremely, extremely significant impact" on military recruiting and retention.

"What happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place, and you're concerned about your reproductive care? What do you do?" Kirby asked. "Do you say no and get out? Well, some people may decide to do that, and what does that mean? That means we lose talent, important talent."

Kirby said the military's policies, including those supporting transgender and female service members, are a "foundational, sacred obligation of military leaders."

"It matters because it says we're invested in you because you are being willing to invest in us," Kirby said. "You're investing your life, your family's livelihood with us. We owe you that back in return."

In response to NBC News' request for comment, a Tuberville spokesman said that what is really affecting recruiting is "the Biden administration's politicizing the military."

“The Biden administration seems a lot more concerned about 260 generals and admirals than about tens of thousands of missing recruits,” the spokesman said.

In April, military officials told the House Armed Services Committee that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force would not meet enlistment goals this year.

Several Senate Republicans have been critical of Tuberville's hold on nominations. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has expressed concern over putting holds on military promotions as opposed to political nominees, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he does not support "putting a hold on military nominations."

NBC News reported Thursday that the White House is putting increased pressure on Republicans over Tuberville's blockade, according to a new memo.

“Right now, a Republican Senator is choosing to erode military readiness and abuse military families in the pursuit of an unrelated and extreme anti-freedom agenda — with barely a sound from his GOP colleagues,” White House communications adviser Andrew Bates wrote in the memo.