Senator relaxes pro-life protest
Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama will vote to approve most promotions
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, called “Coach” around the U.S. Capitol, left a weekly policy luncheon Tuesday afternoon with a deal: He has dropped his 10-month hold on most military promotions in exchange for GOP opposition to a workaround that Democrats proposed. The Pentagon policy he opposed—reimbursing travel expenses for service members seeking abortions—will remain in place. The Pentagon has not yet publicly commented.
“I have no control over anybody else putting a hold on somebody,” Tuberville told reporters. “But for myself, they are released as we speak.”
He was referring to hundreds of service members waiting for Senate approval of their promotions. Longtime Senate procedure allows the chamber to accept the appointments in large batches by unanimous consent, which Tuberville has refused to give since February.
The deal, negotiated by fellow Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Joni Ernst of Iowa, released all holds on advancement below the four-star level. Later that afternoon, the Senate voted to confirm about 425 promotions that had been on hold.
Tuberville can continue to oppose high-ranking generals and officers, forcing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring those promotions to the floor individually for debate and vote. That procedure will apply to roughly 12 nominees, including the heads of Northern Command and U.S. Cyber Command, as well as the commanders of Pacific Air Forces and the U.S. Pacific Fleet. According to a Pentagon spokesperson, one of those is still in committee.
Tuberville admitted Tuesday that he did not achieve his ultimate goal. But he said he was glad to have brought attention to the Pentagon’s policy and to have voiced disapproval.
“The only opportunity you got to get people on the left up here to listen to you in the minority is to put a hold on something, and that’s what we did,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “I think we opened our eyes a little bit. We didn’t get the win that we wanted. We’ve still got a bad policy.”
A court memorandum opinion argued that service members need easy access to abortions to preserve unit morale and maintain recruitment standards.
Tuberville argued that the policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer money from funding abortions.
Other Republican senators said they also disagreed with the Pentagon’s policy but Tuberville had the wrong approach. Military veterans in the Senate have been pushing Tuberville to drop his action for months.
“Why are we punishing American heroes who have nothing to do with the dispute?" said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “Remember, we are against the Biden abortion travel policy, but why are we punishing people who have nothing to do with the dispute and if they get confirmed can’t fix it? No one has had an answer for that question because there is no answer.”
In November, the Senate Rules Committee passed a resolution that could circumvent Tuberville’s hold by temporarily changing Senate procedure to allow a supermajority of the chamber to overrule him. The chamber had not yet considered the resolution, but Democrats and Republicans had qualms about setting such a precedent. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not support any such workaround.
“It was pretty much a draw,” Tuberville said while leaving the Capitol. “They didn’t get what they wanted. We didn’t get what I wanted.”
At a news conference shortly after, Schumer said he would move forward with the unanimous consent votes “as soon as possible.” Tuberville said he would continue to oppose four-star promotions to protest the Pentagon’s policy, but they can still be promoted through a majority voice vote on an individual basis.
Critics of Tuberville’s hold said it affected U.S. military readiness. The positions awaiting confirmation were filled on an interim basis during Tuberville’s hold, and Schumer brought four senior promotions to the floor for individual votes and passage, including Air Force Gen. CQ Brown Jr. to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that he will continue to work to drop any obstacles to four-star promotions as well.
“Any time you add a level of uncertainty into the chain of command, it creates an unnecessary friction,” he said. “It’s not just flicking a switch and suddenly everyone moves into these new positions. You have to consider things like when people can move where the people that are moving out of the positions are going. All that has to be carefully orchestrated and done in a way that enables us to continue to conduct the operations without having significant impact not only on the mission, but also on the individual family members.”