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These military spouses are fighting one senator's hold on military promotions

From left: Janessa Schilmoeller, Tonya Murphy, Sarah Streyder, Brandi Jones and Kate Marsh Lord.
Troy Mosley
From left: Janessa Schilmoeller, Tonya Murphy, Sarah Streyder, Brandi Jones and Kate Marsh Lord.

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville's disagreement with a Pentagon policy on abortion is upheaving life plans for hundreds of military families. Now those families are petitioning Senate leaders to intervene on their behalf.

Who are they? Hundreds of military family members have signed a petition delivered to the offices of Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, as well as Tuberville's office.

  • The petition was started by the Secure Families Initiative — a nonprofit dedicated to civic engagement within military families.
  • Tuberville is creating huge logistical headaches for hundreds of people in and around the armed forces by holding up military confirmations in protest. Without those positions confirmed, families with young children find themselves stuck between homes and school districts as the start of the school year approaches.
  • What's the big deal? Tuberville's decision has left military positions and families in limbo until a resolution is found.

  • In February, Tuberville, a Republican, began withholding the required Senate approval for military promotions. Senate rules make it hard for Senate leadership to override his objections.
  • Tuberville is protesting a Pentagon policy that grants leave and travel expenses to military personnel who have to travel out of state for abortion services. The policy went into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortion access was no longer guaranteed across the country.
  • Tuberville believes the policy violates the Hyde Amendment that bans federal funding for abortion. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has advised that the provision is legal.
  • The White House argues that Tuberville is risking military readiness. Tuberville does not believe that this block is impacting national security, and stated in a press call that, "If they would move their illegal policy for abortion back the way it was and let's vote on it on the floor,  it'd be very simple, very easy. We can do that today and whether it passes or doesn't pass doesn't make any difference, I would drop my holds."
  • Last month, Tuberville sent a letter to Senate leaders that he said was signed by more than 5,000 veterans who support his position.
  • What are they saying? All Things Considered's Mary Louise Kelly spoke with Tonya Murphy, who lives in northern Virginia with her family and is married to a Navy commander, and also works as a senior manager of advancement at the Travis Manion Foundation, a veteran support organization. This is what Murphy said:

    On the impacts on families, and more largely, national security:

    Right now, the Marine Corps is without a confirmed commandant, the Army will be without their confirmed service chiefs in the next week, I believe. 

    And then shortly after that, the Navy's service chief will also be moved to an acting position, not a confirmed position. When we look at those roles, those are the roles that make a lot of very important decisions for each of the branches and then collectively as the Joint Chiefs. 

    But while we have acting individuals in those roles, they don't have the same authority when it comes to making certain decisions. And so they're not able to utilize the full power and impact of that role. They're kind of cut off at the knees because they are an acting chief of whatever service that they're representing.

    And this is not something that we're just seeing nationally — other countries are seeing this and recognizing this. It really puts us at a disadvantage and in a precarious position.

    Want more on politics? Listen to Consider This on the patchwork of transgender healthcare laws push families across state lines

    On the timing of the block and transitions for families:

    Oh, my gosh. So it is hard enough to move with a military family. We have done it nine-and-a-half times, because this last move was kind of a little wonky. 

    And when you're trying to get your kids to their next duty station, get them enrolled in sports, get them involved in the things that they participate within their school, be trying out for a team and joining a club, making the connections that they need in order for a place to feel like home — you're at a disadvantage when you're at a hold, right? 

    So these families can move ahead of their service members – if they have the funds to do that. If they don't, that's money out of pocket. 

    In addition, you're talking about spouses who may or may not be in an employment role that they can transfer. If they can transfer it, they don't know when they're going to be able to do that because they don't know when they'll be at their next duty station.

    Some spouses cannot transfer their roles, and so they have already resigned their position in anticipation of the move, but are now stuck in limbo, waiting to get to their next duty station and find their next employment opportunity. That's a huge financial hit for a military family.

    On what she would say to Tuberville if she could speak to him directly:

    I understand that he has this policy disagreement with some over the legislation that the D.O.D. has put out, and there are proper channels in order to address that and to move forward on that. Holding our military members hostage in order to achieve a goal is not the right answer. That is not how you support our troops. Putting them in the current situation, where they do not have confirmed leadership, is not how you show support to our troops. If you're going to support our troops, support our troops. Do not use them as pawns.

    So, what now?

  • The Secure Families Initiative is continuing to collect signatures on the petition, and hoping to earn the attention and support of more lawmakers.
  • This past week, lawmakers left Washington for their August recess, leaving a future resolution unclear.
  • Eight Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committeealso drafted a letter to Minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has also said he opposes Tuberville's actions, encouraging him to take stronger action. But Tuberville has shown no signs of letting up, leaving the next move unclear.
  • Learn more:

  • Veterans are encouraged to enroll for PACT Act benefits by Aug. 9
  • Former Michigan GOP attorney general nominee is charged in voting machine breach
  • Harris says she won't debate DeSantis on new Black history standards in Florida
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.
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