Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama is waging an unprecedented campaign to try to change the Pentagon’s abortion policy by blocking hundreds of military nominations and promotions, pushing less experienced leaders into top jobs and raising concerns with the Pentagon about military preparedness.
Senators from both parties — including Republican leader Mitch McConnell — pushed back the blockade of Tuberville, but Tuberville is entrenched. He says he won’t drop the holds unless a majority of Democrats allow a vote on the policy.
For now, the battle is in a stalemate. Democrats say a vote on any nominee could freeze the Senate floor for months. And they don’t want to give in to Tuberville’s demands and encourage similar nominee blockades in the future.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that blocking the promotion of military leaders, most of whom have devoted their lives to protecting the country, is “one of the most appalling and outrageous things I have ever done.” ever seen in this room, witness the fact that no one has ever had the guts and guts to do this before.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Pentagon policy clash.
Approving military nominations and promotions has long been one of the Senate’s most bipartisan duties. But the Alabama Republican shattered that standard with his blanket grab, which the Pentagon says has already blocked more than 260 senior officer nominations and could rise to 650 by the end of the year.
Tuberville, a former college football coach who has closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump since his election in 2020, shows little sign of stopping.
Democrats have repeatedly taken to the Senate floor to try to call the nominations. But Tuberville has objected every time.
Tuberville says he won’t drop the holds until the Pentagon’s policy is voted on. But he has not introduced legislation to reverse it and insists that debate over amendments to change the policy does not count.
Instead, he has proposed a very specific, unusual strategy: Democrats would have to introduce their own bill on the policy and it would have to be voted on.
Democratic leaders like Schumer, who support existing policies, say it’s up to the GOP.
“It is up to the Republican senators to give Senator Tuberville the upper hand and get him to end his reckless pursuit,” Schumer said this week.
In the Senate, one senator can hold back nominations or legislation, even if the other 99 want it to move forward.
Generally, majority party leaders get around this by holding a series of votes to move a measure and lift the guard. It just takes a little extra time on the Senate floor.
But the Tuberville blockade is unique in that there are hundreds of military nominations and promotions, and Democratic leaders would have to hold roll call votes on each of them to get around the hold. It is a decades-long tradition for the Senate to aggregate and approve military promotions by ballot, avoiding lengthy roll calls.
So Tuberville has cornered the senate. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Senator Jack Reed, DR.I., said this week that voting on the more than 260 military nominations through the regular procedure would take 27 days while the Senate would work “around the clock” or 84 days. days when the Senate worked eight hours a day.
In addition to hundreds of one-, two-, and three-star generals and admirals, the holds are delaying the confirmation of the Pentagon’s top leaders — who make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the chairman.
The US Marine Corps now has no confirmed leader for the first time in a century. And by law, current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General Mark Milley, will step down at the end of September and the current army chief will leave his post in early August. The nominees to succeed them have had hearings, but no votes.
The Pentagon and lawmakers opposed to Tuberville’s actions say the holds create a trickle effect that hurts military preparedness, preventing dozens of officers from moving to new jobs, either as candidates or as staff members. They argue that less experienced leaders are forced to intervene.
Speaking this week of acting US Marine Corps commander General Eric Smith, Tuberville says he believes the holds will have “minimal effect” on his ability to lead in an acting capacity.
“There may be a delay in his planning guidance, and yet he cannot move into the commander’s residence, but there is little doubt about General Smith’s ability to lead effectively,” Tuberville said.
After the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued new policies last October that he said should ensure all troops have access to reproductive health care.
In a memo, Austin said military personnel and their families feared they would not be given equal access to health care, including abortions. And as many states began to impose more restrictions on abortion, he noted that military personnel who often have to move for different missions or training would be forced to travel farther, take more time off and pay more for access to reproductive health care.
The problem, Austin said, would cause extraordinary hardship and “will hinder our ability to recruit, retain and maintain a highly skilled force.”
He ordered the department to allow troops and dependents, in accordance with federal law, to take time off work and use official travel to go to other states for reproductive care not available locally. That care includes in vitro fertilization and other pregnancy aids that may also not be accessible nearby.
The policy does not fund abortions. Federal law allows Department of Defense facilities to perform abortions only when the mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest, and those cases are extremely rare. According to the department, 91 abortions were performed in military medical facilities between 2016 and 2021.
The deadlock in confirmations led to sharp debates at Senate Armed Services Committee hearings this week. A parade of lawmakers also took to the Senate floor to complain.
At a hearing this week for Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr. on Biden’s choice to replace Milley as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Senator Tim Kaine warned that military personnel may choose to leave the military as they see their careers jeopardized. blocked.
“I urge all my colleagues to turn away from the path we are on, where we disrespect and punish people, because we are not satisfied with the policies in the military that these individuals had nothing to do with” , said Kaine, D. -Va.
Tuberville has also faced opposition from its side of the aisle.
McConnell said in May that he opposes the Tuberville blockade. And several Republican senators this week said they hoped to find a way to persuade the senator to drop the holds.
“I think we’re all concerned — we want these key positions filled,” said South Dakota Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
In the House of Representatives, Republicans on Friday passed a broad defense bill that reverses the new abortion policy. But Tuberville has said that’s not enough to get him to drop the holds.
Austin called Tuberville Thursday to discuss the holds, the day President Joe Biden told reporters that Tuberville is endangering national security and is “totally irresponsible.”
Through a spokeswoman, Tuberville said he was “grateful” for the call and would discuss the matter again with Austin in the coming week.
However, it is unclear whether they can find a compromise. Tuberville has repeatedly said he will hold his position until a vote is taken.
“We need a vote on this policy on the floor,” he said Wednesday. ‘I don’t know if it will continue. It could be. I do not give a hoot. I just want the American people to have a say on this, not the Pentagon.”
This story has been updated to correct the day Austin Tuberville called. It was Thursday, not Friday.