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Tommy Tuberville

Why GOP senators frustrated by Tuberville blockade on military promotions may go against one of their own

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans may be preparing to go against one of their own. 

Frustrated by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s continued blockade of military appointments and promotions, multiple members of his caucus are warning they may soon side with Democrats to change procedure and allow the approval of military appointments as a group if the Alabama senator doesn’t let up. 

Earlier this week, the Senate Rules Committee advanced a plan to allow mass consideration of military nominees through the end of the Congress with a simple majority vote, breaking the logjam Tuberville has created. 

Leading Republicans on the committee said they couldn’t support it — arguing it could weaken a crucial procedural tool for the minority party — but hinted that they may come on board if other options don’t work. Nine Republicans would need to join with Democrats to put it into effect.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti's nomination for reappointment to the grade of admiral and to be Chief of Naval Operations, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) ORG XMIT: DCJM102

Since February, Tuberville has single-handedly blocked more than 400 military appointments and promotions in protest of a Pentagon policy that provides time off and travel funds for service members who need to go to another state to receive an abortion.

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Early Thursday morning, after the Senate approved the funding extension to avert a government shut down, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Dan Sullivan of Alaska made another unsuccessful push to break through Tuberville’s hold on dozens of nominees. They argued the backlog is impacting military readiness and could endanger the country’s national security.

As Sullivan and Ernst began their attempt, Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina gave heated remarks about the impact of the continued block and indicated he may vote to advance Democrats’ proposal. 

"I promise you, this will be the last holiday this happens," Graham said, referring to the Thanksgiving holiday most members would soon leave town to celebrate. “If it takes me to vote to break loose these folks, I will.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said the administration’s policy is “atrocious.”

But Tuberville’s response “is not the way to reach the desired outcome he and I share,” he said. “In fact, it’s created a nearly unprecedented situation for the Senate to address.”

He told the Rules committee he wouldn’t support the rule to bypass Tuberville because he wanted to pursue other options first, but left the door open to change his mind later, saying he opposes it “at this particular moment.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly Senate Republican caucus lunch at the U.S. Capitol on November 14, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Despite their complaints, many of Tuberville’s GOP colleagues have so far been hesitant to bypass him — both to preserve the rule and out of respect for someone who is .

Tuberville has argued that the Pentagon’s policy is a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which bars the federal government from paying for abortions. The Defense and Justice Departments have said the policy is legal because it does not directly pay for abortion. 

“This is a policy that is illegal and immoral. This is about life and it's also about the rule of law,” Tuberville said on the floor last week. “It's about whether we make laws at the Pentagon or whether we follow the Constitution. This is also about the integrity of our military.”

The Pentagon implemented the policy last summer, shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The court decision prompted 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. In justification of the policy, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that burden would make it difficult to recruit and retain qualified troops.

Both Democrats and Republicans have complained for months that Tuberville’s blockade is impacting military readiness. If left unimpeded, McConnell said the block would impact 90% of the country’s most senior military commanders by the end of the year.

Ernst and Sullivan’s attempt to bypass Tuberville Thursday was the second time GOP frustrations have boiled over on the Senate floor. Two weeks ago, conflict in Gaza and a Marine Corps leader’s medical emergency prompted multiple GOP senators to publicly beg him to release the hold.

Tuberville has been able to block the advancement of hundreds of nominees because of the unique rules of the Senate. All 100 senators are required to fast-track consideration of nominees, making it possible for any one senator to jam up the process. 

The majority leadership typically bypasses it by holding votes to sidestep the hold. But 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.

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