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US defense secretary says Tuberville holds are ‘national security issue’

By Sarah Dean, CNN

(CNN) — US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s holds on hundreds of senior military nominations are a “national security issue.”

“This is a national security issue. It’s a readiness issue. And, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. I think any member of the Senate Armed Services Committee knows that,” Austin said in an interview Thursday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

When asked by Blitzer if the defense secretary would have a conversation with the Alabama senator to get this resolved, Austin said he would “continue to engage” with Tuberville, and added the two had a conversation in March.

Tuberville insisted earlier this week in an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that he is not blocking confirmations and that the Senate had plenty of time to take up the nominees. Tuberville has not backed down from maintaining his block on nominations as he protests the Defense Department’s reproductive health policies, claiming there is no impact on national security and no risk to US military readiness.

“We have a policy that allows our troops to get access to non-covered reproductive health care and I think that’s an important policy,” Austin said Thursday.

“One in five of my troops … is a woman and our women provide tremendous value to this force and I think we need to do everything we can to take care of them,” Austin added.

When asked if the Pentagon will continue to pay for women to go to other states, if necessary, to get an abortion, Austin said, “That’s our policy,” he said.

“I don’t have an abortion policy, I have an access to non-covered reproductive health care policy,” he added.

The hold disrupts what is typically a routine process of confirming hundreds of military nominations at once known as unanimous consent. With Tuberville’s hold in place, the Senate would need to take each nomination to the floor for an individual vote, which could take months and hundreds of hours of floor time to complete. 

Austin was also asked what it would mean to him if Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown is confirmed as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If confirmed, it would be the first time in US history that both of the Defense Department’s top leaders – the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs – are African American.

“It means a lot that we have the ability to have that,” Austin said.

“C.Q. Brown was selected by the president not solely because he is African American, he is a really, really good officer and a great fighter pilot … I think he’s the right guy, at the right time for this job,” Austin said.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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