RI Congressional candidate speaks out Sen. Tuberville's holds on promotions

Republican Gerry Leonard criticized the hold Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) placed on military promotions over Pentagon abortion policy at a news conference in Woonsocket September 18, 2023. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

WPRO News and The Associated Press

Rhode Island candidate for Congress Gerry Leonard joins a growing chorus of former military leaders speaking out on Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s freeze on military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion policy.

Leonard, a Republican running to succeed former Congressman David Cicilline in a special election, a retired Marine Colonel, said the hold is “an example of the extremism and hyper partisanship that’s dividing the country right now”.

Leonard, who is facing Democrat Gabe Amo in the special election November 7, was asked about speaking out, contrary to what former Republican President Ronald Reagan called the “Eleventh Commandment”, “thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.”

“All Republicans, and quite frankly, all Republicans and Democrats need to speak up right now,” Leonard told reporters Monday morning at the Woonsocket Veteran’s Memorial.

“We need to focus on putting our nation first, and we need to talk about that from a national security lens,” Tuberville said.

Last week, some of the military’s most senior leaders took the issue head on and voiced their concerns. They said the damage the holds will do to the military will be felt for years, as young talented officers decide they’ve had enough and choose to get out.

Tuberville announced the holds late last year after the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs that abortion limits should be left to the states, and the Biden administration’s civilian Pentagon head, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, responded by instituting a policy that Tuberville says violates federal law.

Under the policy, service members, who often do not get a say in where they are assigned, are reimbursed for travel costs incurred for seeking an abortion or other reproductive care if they are serving in a state that has outlawed those services.

Tuberville says the policy violates a federal law that says Defense Department funds may not be used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is threatened.

So in March, Tuberville exercised a privilege that allows any single senator to place a hold on a nomination, except he put a blanket hold on all military general officer nominations and said he would not lift it until the policy is rescinded.

Last month, Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized the hold.

“Senator Tuberville’s shocking admission that he ‘doesn’t care if they promote anybody’ is a smoking gun confession. It demonstrates how Senate Republicans are doing nothing to help end his blockade,” Reed said in a statement.

““Our service members sacrifice so much to defend our nation and they deserve the very best, merit-based military leadership. They also deserve elected leaders who actually do care. But this Republican blockade has left the Army, Navy, and Marines without confirmed leaders for the first time in history,” Reed said.