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Putting the military ahead of the unborn

GOP senators try to undermine Tommy Tuberville’s heroic pro-life fight

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks on the Senate floor on Nov. 1. Senate Television via Associated Press

Putting the military ahead of the unborn
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Last week, a group of Republican Senators, including Joni Ernst (Iowa), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Mitt Romney (Utah), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), and Todd Young (Indiana), took to the Senate floor to try to break Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (Alabama) hold on military promotions. They failed because Sen. Tuberville held firm for hours in his fight against the Biden administration’s unlawful abortion policy. Though Republican senators have for months muttered their disapproval of Tuberville’s strategy of holding high-level military promotions until the DOD reverses its policy, this skirmish was the first time his Republican colleagues have openly rebelled against him.

It won’t be the last. These same senators—and others—are plotting with Democrats to change the rules governing the Senate to undermine Tuberville and process the promotions. Watch for news of that in the days to come.

Why would Senate Republicans fight against one of their own, especially on something as fundamental as the fight to defend the unborn? Despite their espoused principles and campaign promises, life is simply not the top priority of many elected Republicans—at least, not like it is for their voters. For many years Republican politicians have promised voters they would cut federal funding from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, only to give in when Democrats draw the line. In those cases, these Republicans explain their lackluster resolve by giving the excuse that they must fund the Department of Defense. Now these Senate Republicans are putting the military ahead of the unborn yet again.

It’s important to remember how we got here. In June 2022, the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade. In the weeks following the decision, President Biden ordered his administration to expand access to abortion through every possible means. For example, the State Department produced a document titled Reimagining PEPFAR, describing the ways the agency would promote greater access to “sexual reproductive health, rights and services” (a form of Orwellian government-speak for abortion) through the program meant to combat AIDS in Africa. The Veteran’s Affairs department announced that for the first time its facilities would offer abortion to veterans and dependents. And the Department of Defense issued new rules granting paid leave and travel and transportation allowances to cover the cost of abortion.

None of these policies would have passed Congress had the administration attempted to change the law, so the Biden administration is using administrative rules and policy changes to advance their abortion agenda. None of this is legal.

In response to the administration, Sen. Tuberville announced that he would put a hold on the promotion of several hundred high-ranking military officers until the Department of Defense reversed course or Congress lawfully passed the administration policy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is so concerned that Sen. Tuberville’s actions will create a new standard that he has refused to put the military promotions on the floor for a vote.

What is a “hold”?

Military promotions above a certain rank require confirmation by the Senate, just like a high-ranking cabinet official or Supreme Court nominee. Traditionally, these confirmations have been uncontroversial, and there are hundreds of them each year. So instead of running through the entire confirmation process requiring multiple votes and hours of floor time, senators grant “unanimous consent” or “UC” to bypass the rules and confirm the promotions as a group without a vote. However, as the name suggests, it requires unanimity to do this, and any individual senator can withhold his or her consent and stop the process.

For a year, Sen. Tuberville has kept his promise by doing just that—withholding consent. His fight has been one of the most heroic displays of leadership in the history of the pro-life movement. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is so concerned that Sen. Tuberville’s actions will create a new standard that he has refused to put the military promotions on the floor for a vote. Remember, Sen. Tuberville is denying consent to skip the rules. At any time, Sen. Schumer could file cloture on a nominee and have the Senate vote to confirm the officer. He won’t, because in his mind, that means Sen. Tuberville wins. It is hard to take Sen. Tuberville’s critics seriously when they claim he’s harming military readiness when all they have to do to get the promotions done is follow their rules.

Pro-life voters, who are overwhelmingly people of faith, have grown accustomed to not expecting much from their representatives in Congress. Each year, whenever Republicans are in the majority, we get a going-nowhere show-vote on some minor, commonsense piece of legislation, like the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which mandates that doctors must provide medical care to babies who miraculous survive late-term abortion, before Congress moves on to its real priorities.

The pro-life community doesn’t expect all 49 Republican senators to join Sen. Tuberville in his holds, though credit is due to the handful of senators like Mike Lee and Roger Marshall who have publicly stood with him. It is unacceptable that other of Sen. Tuberville’s fellow Republicans would be the ones to undermine him and advance the Biden administration’s cause of death. That cannot be tolerated. Pro-life people of faith should pay close attention to where their elected officials stand in the days to come.

Eric Teetsel

Eric Teetsel is vice president of government relations at The Heritage Foundation.

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