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The Marine Corps Is Missing Its Top General Thanks to One Republican Senator
Plus: The Senate’s top tweeter on Threads and the indictment of a Biden whistleblower.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, The Bulwark’s twice-weekly newsletter on Congress, campaigns, and how Washington works. Sign up to receive free editions of this newsletter every Tuesday—and if you haven’t already joined Bulwark+, be sure to do so to get this Thursday’s installment, where we’ll be monitoring the upcoming testimony of FBI Director Christopher Wray at the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
In today’s edition, we start with one Republican senator’s ongoing obstruction of top military promotions, then ask whether the Senate’s most prolific tweeter is making the jump to Threads. Plus, a few words about Gal Luft, the House Oversight Committee’s supposed whistleblower who went missing and has now been indicted.
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The empty seat at the top of the U.S. Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is without a Senate-confirmed leader for the first time in 164 years, largely because of Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.).
Tuberville’s pledge to hold up all senior military promotions and confirmations that require the consent of the Senate until he is granted a vote on rolling back President Joe Biden’s rule allowing travel reimbursement for service members traveling across state lines to receive abortions and related care has frustrated White House and defense officials, and drawn the ire of the national security community.
Countless defense officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, have condemned the holds Tuberville has put on nearly 200 senior military promotions as detrimental to national security. The most prominent of these came this week, with the retirement on Monday of U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. The last time there was no commandant was apparently before the Civil War.
Asked about this latest development in the Capitol Monday afternoon, Tuberville said, “I’ve talked to plenty of officers. [U.S. Marine Corps Assistant Commandant] General Smith said he could get the job done.”
“Listen, I’m not gonna hold up readiness and I understand a little bit about what’s going on,” Tuberville added.
Tuberville previously assured me that he talks to “all the generals and everybody involved,” so he isn’t buying the assertion by the White House, the Pentagon, many of his fellow senators, and virtually everyone in the national security space that believes his position makes the country less safe.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, told reporters that “every day this drags on, it’s more and more harm to the military.”
“It’s critically important to have our chairmen in place and the joint chiefs in place,” he added. “But there are so many critical jobs that are being blocked by these holds. . . . We’re talking about a situation where these are critical individuals. And you can have an acting replacement, but that person doesn’t have the clout to talk to contractors—to talk to . . . very high-level civilians at [the Defense Department] because they’re just a one-star. And that’s part of the culture of the military so this does tremendous damage.”
Tuberville’s obstructionism demonstrates the flaws and fragility of our institutions, where one junior senator in the minority party can hold up scores of critical national security positions over his personal view on policy unrelated to these defense positions.
Assume Twitter dead
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), age 89, has been a prolific tweeter for much of the past decade, regularly posting about hitting a deer with his car, the seasonal monitoring of his corn production #CornWatch, and his trips to Dairy Queen for “u know what.” Grassley is also one of the Senate’s biggest buyers of the belief that Elon Musk is a free-speech champion restoring order to Twitter and not a petty, erratic, authoritarian-appeasing CEO rapidly squandering a $44 billion investment.
Threads, Meta’s new Twitter competitor, has reportedly already amassed more than 100 million users in less than a week. That’s not good for Twitter, which risks being squeezed out. I spoke to Grassley Monday about whether he might ditch Twitter for Threads, to which he said, “I’m a fan of Twitter and I would never think of anything else. Twitter is the most ideal way of communicating with people and I don’t appreciate the competition.”
By his tone, Grassley was clearly joking about not appreciating the competition, but offered a much more serious answer when I asked why he wouldn’t ever leave Twitter, even if it one day is overtaken by Threads:
I’ve seen Facebook and some of those platforms use their platforms for political reasons or disinformation or stuff like that and now under Musk, we don’t have to worry about Twitter playing that game. I’m not going to give credibility to anybody that wants to censor or work with the government to affect free speech.
Grassley is right to be skeptical of Zuckerberg. Meta’s Facebook has routinely mishandled data and violated privacy laws; it has even been used to incite a genocide. But Grassley’s belief that Musk’s Twitter is some beacon of liberty that never works with governments is unfounded.
In his short tenure running Twitter, Musk has approved 83 percent of censorship requests by authoritarian governments, according to a recent analysis. What’s more, Musk has repeatedly given in to his own anger and bruised ego and whims by selectively shutting down accounts and entire features of the app. He’s also been petty about hiding his competitors—clashing with Substack (where this Bulwark newsletter is published) and obscuring information about some competitors (at the moment, all links to Threads are currently hidden in search on Twitter).
Grassley either does not understand that Musk’s behavior and policies at Twitter are indistinguishable from what he laments about other social networks, or he might just have a warped view of what online freedom of speech means. Either way, the most senior member of the U.S. Senate is not coming to Threads anytime soon, even if the Twitter audience crumbles.
From China with Luft
The Department of Justice indicted on Monday one of the House Oversight Committee’s supposed Hunter Biden whistleblowers on charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent and working to advance the sale of Iranian oil and illicit weapons to China.
Gal Luft, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, had previously been arrested in Cyprus for arms trafficking charges to China and Libya. If you recall, Press Pass first reported that Luft enlisted the help of a U.S. lawyer to raise awareness of his potential extradition by lobbying members of Congress on the belief that Luft was being retaliated against for having dirt on the Bidens. That lawyer, Robert Henoch, confirmed to me he is still working with Luft as of the indictment, but declined to make him available for an interview.
It all came to a head when Luft skipped out on bail in Cyprus and went to ground. His absence then created something of a mini-firestorm among the House Oversight Committee, who could no longer locate him. Oversight Chairman James Comer hadn’t been properly updating his fellow committee members, leading to a mass confusion about who exactly was missing.
Luft is still missing by the way, but he’s not fully disappeared. He filmed a 14-minute video from an undisclosed location about the Biden bribery allegations that the New York Post published last week. For more on the Luft story, check out JVL’s newsletter today.