Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) announced Thursday that she would block the promotions of 1,123 senior military officers until Defense Secretary Mark Esper promises that he will promote Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who is believed to have communicated with the “whistleblower” that sparked Trump’s impeachment.
Her office called the move “unprecedented” but said it came in response to reports of “political interference in military matters” by Trump — the commander in chief.
The statement said Trump “may be seeking” to retaliate against Vindman for testifying against him. During the impeachment hearings, Vindman testified that he was listening to the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and later talked about it to others — including an intelligence official believed to be the whistleblower.
Vindman notably showed up for his testimony in a military uniform that he was not required to wear. An Army spokesman confirmed that Vindman was only required to abide by the dress code of the NSC, where he wore civilian attire. The left praised Vindman as a hero.
Duckworth said in a statement:
When I showed up at basic training, it didn’t matter who I was, all that mattered was that I could shoot straight and whether I was capable of leading when it was my turn to be the platoon leader—that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Our military is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy. It is simply unprecedented and wrong for any Commander in Chief to meddle in routine military matters at all, whether or not he has a personal vendetta against a Soldier who did his patriotic duty and told the truth—a Soldier who has been recommended for promotion by his superiors because of his performance. I won’t just sit by and let it happen, and neither should any of my colleagues. This goes far beyond any single military officer, it is about protecting a merit-based system from political corruption and unlawful retaliation.
The hold on promotions includes everyone above the rank of colonel, except for the Pentagon’s chief operating officer nominee.
The statement by Duckworth’s office said the senator would lift her hold on the nominations if and when Esper provides written confirmation of:
— Whether the Army Competitive Category promotion board for Lieutenant Colonel (O5) to Colonel (O6) included Lt. Col. Vindman among its selection for promotion to O6,
— If so, whether the Army included Lt. Col. Vindman on its list of promotions to O6 that it sent to the Pentagon, and
— If so, whether Secretary Esper or his designee will (or has) submitted a list of Army promotions to O6 to the White House for approval that includes (or included) Lt. Col. Vindman.
Duckworth’s office said her decision was based in part on Trump’s threats to use active-duty forces to quell “peaceful civilian protests,” using Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley in a “photo op,” and deploying military helicopters to “intimidate American civilians.”
The statement also accused Trump of insisting on “honoring traitors” who raised arms against the union to “maintain their ability to enslave and kill Black Americans” — a reference to Trump opposing renaming military bases named after Confederate military leaders.
Her statement came on the same day the Atlantic reported that 2020 Democrat nominee Joe Biden is vetting Duckworth as a potential running mate.
Duckworth’s move puts Esper in an awkward situation. Esper is already on thin ice with Trump, after he publicly opposed the deployment of active duty forces in response to violent protests that at the time were engulfing cities across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd.