Tuberville relents on months-long blockade of most military nominees, blaming Democrats

By: - December 5, 2023 5:09 pm

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 15, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Tuberville on Tuesday, De. 5, 2023 gave up on his blockade of hundreds of military nominees. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — After blocking hundreds of U.S. military promotions for most of 2023 in protest of a Pentagon abortion policy, Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama said Tuesday he will lift his holds on all of them except for a handful of four-star general nominees.

The senator, who sits on the Senate Committee on Armed Forces, said he told his fellow Senate Republicans “it’s been a long fight” but ultimately he said Democrats were to blame for stalling hundreds of service members from moving up in the chain of command. Tuberville had said repeatedly that Democrats could bring each of the nominees to the floor for votes, which would take hours of debate.

“We fought hard. We did the right thing for the unborn and for our military, fighting back against executive overreach, and an abortion policy that’s not legal,” Tuberville said after announcing his about-face to his fellow Senate Republicans during their regularly scheduled weekly lunch.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he would move the nominations to the floor “as soon as possible, possibly later this afternoon.”

“I hope no one does this again, and I hope they learned the lesson of Sen. Tuberville. And that is he held out for many, many months, hurt our national security, caused discombobulation to so many military families who have been so dedicated to our country, and didn’t get anything that he wanted,” said Schumer, of New York.

Tuberville has blocked hundreds of nominees since the spring because he opposes a recent Pentagon policy that allows armed services members time off and travel reimbursement should they need to seek an abortion in a state where it remains legal.

Roughly 80,000 active-duty female service members are stationed in states where legislatures enacted full or partial bans following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a RAND analysis.

The Biden administration and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin maintain the policy is legal, as did a 2022 Department of Justice opinion.

The list of nominees affected by Tuberville’s months-long hold grew to 451 members of the military as of Nov. 27, according to a Department of Defense official. Majority staff for the Senate Armed Services Committee list 445 affected nominees.

Tuberville’s agreement to halt his protest means that all but 11 of those nominees are expected to clear final Senate approval, according to figures from committee’s majority staff.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Tuesday that GOP senators are “pleased obviously that that situation seems to have been ameliorated by recent announcements by the senator from Alabama.”

Sen. Jack Reed, chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said in a statement Tuesday he’s “glad that hundreds of our nation’s finest military leaders will finally receive their hard-won, merit-based promotions.”

“They, and their families, have shown us what grace and grit look like in the face of hardship. Senator Tuberville’s actions have been an affront to the United States military and the Senate,” said Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.

“He has jeopardized our national security and abused the rights afforded to all Senators. No Senator should ever attempt to advance their own partisan agenda on the backs of our troops like this again.”

Threat of Democratic-led procedure change

Tuberville’s change in course arrived as Schumer was poised to bring to the floor a Democratic-led rules resolution to bypass the Alabama senator’s blockade.

The proposed temporary change in floor process would have allowed senators to quickly approve large blocs of nominations simultaneously on the floor, saving hours and hours that would have been required to vote on each individually.

Tuberville said Tuesday that he and fellow Republican senators decided they did not want to see any changes to Senate floor procedures and that is the reason he decided to lift his blockade.

“All of us are against a rule change in the Senate, OK. We’re all against it,” Tuberville said.

The Alabama senator’s own Republican colleagues have grown publicly frustrated with his stalling of military promotions.

GOP senators, including Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Todd Young of Indiana, have on two occasions held the Senate floor into the wee hours bringing forward the names of nominees, only to meet Tuberville’s objections.

Some frustrated Republicans last week mulled whether to support the Democratic-led effort to override Tuberville’s blockade. Democrats would have needed nine of them to pass the change in procedure.

“I have said that right now I support Tommy Tuberville, but if he makes a statement that he’s going to maintain this posture through this Congress I intend to vote for nominations under the rules suspension,” Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina told States Newsroom Nov. 29.

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told States Newsroom on Nov. 29 that he was considering the proposal but that he hadn’t yet taken a position.

“Hopefully we won’t get to that point,” he said.

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Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

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