By Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the top U.S. general warned on Tuesday that a Republican senator’s blockade of military promotions could have a far-reaching impact across the U.S. armed forces, affecting troops and their families.
“We will lose talent,” General Charles “CQ” Brown, the outgoing Air Force chief of staff, told his Senate confirmation hearing to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Brown made the remarks shortly after being questioned by Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, who has used a Senate procedure to put a hold on hundreds of military nominations from moving forward because he believes the Pentagon is improperly using government funding to cover travel costs for abortions for service members and their dependents.
An aide to Tuberville said his block would also apply to Brown.
The military is already having to shuffle staff to fill a top leadership post after the commandant of the Marine Corps, one of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped down on Monday when his four-year term ended. His Number 2 has taken over but the hold on promotions has left the Marine Corps without a confirmed leader in the job for the first time in more than a century, the Pentagon says.
Democrats including U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren slammed Tuberville for punishing uniformed military leaders who were not responsible for the policy on abortion travel that he was protesting.
“If the senator from Alabama continues his reckless action, he will soon be holding 650 leaders who have served their country honorable hostage,” Warren said.
A former fighter pilot with command experience in the Pacific, Brown has been warmly received by the Senate and he fielded questions on China, Russia and Ukraine throughout the two-and-a-half hour hearing.
But the most contentious moments during the hearing involved culture war issues including diversity and inclusion, the COVID-19 vaccine and Tuberville’s abortion dispute.
Senator Eric Schmitt, a Republican, accused the military of engaging in “cultural Marxism” for setting diversity goals in recruitment in an August, 2022 memorandum, signed by Air Force leadership. Schmitt asked if the Air Force had too many white officers.
Brown, the country’s first Black service chief, explained to the Senate committee that the U.S. Air Force recruitment goals were only aimed at reflecting the U.S. population, and did not limit anyone’s chances. The memorandum also stated that merit would determine entry in the Air Force.
“If that statement was not included, I would never have signed that letter,” Brown said.
Brown would be only the second Black officer to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after Colin Powell two decades ago.
A self-described introvert, Brown’s public persona contrasts sharply with the outgoing chairman, Army General Mark Milley, a loquacious Boston native whose tenure included both the Trump and Biden administrations.
Known by colleagues as “CQ,” Brown’s experiences include overseeing coalition air operations against Islamic State from the Air Force’s top base in the Middle East.
But it’s his experiences as commander of the U.S. Air Force in the Pacific from 2018 to 2020 that gave him a primer on tensions with China’s rapidly strengthening military, an issue likely to loom large over his four-year term as chair.
Committee members extolled his experience.
“You’ve got a stellar background,” said Republican Senator Rick Scott.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Patricia ZengerleEditing by Alistair Bell)
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