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Tommy Tuberville

Senate committee advances plan to end Tuberville blockade on military promotions

WASHINGTON – The Senate has had enough of Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s nine-month-long blockade of military nominations and promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy, but they haven't yet agreed on how to fix it.

The Democrat-led Senate Rules Committee voted 9-7 along party lines on Tuesday to change a rule Tuberville has used to single-handedly block more than 360 nominations and promotions since February. 

Under the proposed rule, the Senate would temporarily be allowed to approve promotions in a group with a simple majority vote, clearing the path for bulk approval of the nonpartisan nominees.

But it must get at least 60 votes on the floor to go into effect, and it’s unclear there will be enough Republican votes to advance it. Republicans on the Rules Committee blamed the problem primarily on the Biden administration policy and argued that the proposal isn't narrow enough.

Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, the top Republican on the committee, called it a "political maneuver" that would "undermine the Senate's longstanding tradition of rights for the minority party."

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned Tuberville's blockade as "dangerous" and indicated he may be willing to support the plan in the future if another option doesn't work, but said any solution must "preserve our substantive opposition to the Biden administration's atrocious policy."

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama), a former college football coach, is facing harsh criticism from fellow Republicans for continuing to block military promotions.

Why is Tuberville holding up military promotions?

Tuberville has been holding up the promotions to protest a Department of Defense policy – issued last year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – that gives service members time off and pays for travel necessary to receive abortions.

The decision created a patchwork of abortion laws across the country, which could create additional cost and time constraints for service members stationed in more restrictive states who are seeking an abortion. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that would make it difficult to recruit and retain qualified troops, and implemented the policy to combat that.

Both Democrats and Republicans have complained for months that the blockade is impacting military readiness. Rules Committee Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said there will likely be 650 military leadership positions vacant by the end of the year if the holds aren't lifted.

"It's hurting the morale of our troops and it's causing major disruptions in the lives of our military families who have already sacrificed so much," she said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks as Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., right, listens during a news conference after a policy luncheon Wednesday, May 31, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Those frustrations boiled over two weeks ago, when conflict in Gaza and a Marine Corps leader’s medical emergency prompted multiple GOP senators to publicly beg him to release the hold. Many of his peers have been trying to convince him to express his opposition to the policy another way.

Tuberville’s ability to block the service member advancements is a numbers game: Any senator can delay nominations or legislation, but majority leadership typically bypasses it by holding votes to sidestep the hold. 

However, because there are so many military nominations and promotions, Democrats would have had to override each hold individually, eating up precious time on the floor.

His campaign has impacted hundreds of generals and admirals, but it has also impacted some of the Defense Department’s highest-ranking leaders. 

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