WASHINGTON ― Republican frustration with Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) monthslong hold on over 300 military nominees boiled over on Wednesday when several of his GOP colleagues railed against his tactics.
In an extraordinary debate on the Senate floor, Republican senators blasted Tuberville’s hold and sought to approve via voice vote promotions of uncontroversial senior military officials stalled because of his objection to the Pentagon’s policy on travel for abortion care that was put in place after the reversal of Roe v. Wade last year.
Tuberville was unmoved and objected to each one.
“I will keep my hold in place until the Pentagon follows the law or the Democrats change the law,” he said of the travel policy.
Republicans stood by Tuberville’s hold for months, trying to craft a compromise with Democrats behind the scenes. Their patience finally broke on Wednesday.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ala.), a Marine, said he disagreed with the Pentagon’s abortion policy but called Tuberville’s hold “hugely disruptive” to military readiness, and pushed back against the characterization from some on the right that the military is somehow dominated by “woke” culture.
“The idea that these officers are supposedly ‘woke’ or ’desk jockeys’ is ridiculous,” Sullivan said. “These are some of the most combat-experienced generals and admirals we’ve ever had in our country.”
“Why are we putting holds on war heroes?” he asked.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Tuberville to change tactics and file legal challenges to the Pentagon’s abortion policy, rather than block nominees who have no control over it.
“If you think they’ve done something illegal, go to court,” Graham said.
After Tuberville objected to Graham’s request to promote one major general nominee, Graham said: “You just denied this lady a promotion. You did that…she had nothing to do with this policy.”
“Who the hell wants to serve in the military when your promotion can be canned based on something you had nothing to do with?” Graham continued, reiterating concerns expressed by top Pentagon leaders that the blockade would have major and lasting consequences on service members and their families.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) piled on, calling Tuberville’s hold “an abuse of the powers we have as senators.” Senatorial holds on nominees ought to be “reasonable” and targeted to officials in charge of policy, he said.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Iraq war veteran, similarly tried to get Tuberville to stand down on individual nominees, but the Alabama Republican refused to budge.
“Democrats think abortion is more important than the nomination and our military,” Tuberville said even though no Democrats appeared on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
The Senate typically approves military promotions quickly and unanimously in blocks of nominations. To take them up one at a time, as Tuberville has insisted, would require months of Senate floor time.
Democrats are planning to seek a rule change next week in response to Tuberville’s hold that would temporarily allow approvals of promotions en banc ― or grouped together. It’s unclear, however, whether 10 Republicans would go along with such a proposal.
The emergency hospitalization of U.S. Marine Corps commandant Gen. Eric Smith, who was recently confirmed, will likely only add pressure on Republicans to find a workaround to Tuberville’s hold.
“Patience is wearing thin with Sen. Tuberville on both sides of the aisle. What happened with the Marine commandant just showed many people how dangerous what Tuberville is doing is,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday.