Washington, D.C. – November 4, 2023
Senate Democrats are pursuing an innovative approach to address Senator Tommy Tuberville’s obstruction of senior military promotions. Pressure has been mounting among fellow Republicans and Defense Department officials to end his months-long hold, which is a protest against the Pentagon’s abortion access policies.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, announced on Wednesday that he plans to temporarily bypass Senate rules to allow confirmation of nearly all military nominees as a group. A vote could occur as early as next week.
This move would restore the Senate’s previous standard practice before Senator Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, held up a package of officer promotions in February due to the Pentagon’s policy offering time off and travel reimbursement for service members seeking abortions or fertility care.
While it remains uncertain whether Senator Schumer will receive support for his maneuver, he is proceeding with it amid increasing frustration among Republicans and within the Defense Department concerning Senator Tuberville’s nine-month blockade.
The hold has generated anger within the Pentagon, and it intensified this week following an apparent heart attack experienced by Gen. Eric M. Smith, the newly confirmed Marine Corps commandant. Some lawmakers and military officials have suggested that General Smith’s added workload, caused by Senator Tuberville’s tactics blocking his deputy’s confirmation, might have contributed to his health issue.
Senate Democrats are seeking to circumvent Senator Tuberville’s blockade on senior military promotions, which has been ongoing for nine months. This obstruction has led to the holdup of more than 350 senior military positions.
The Pentagon’s policy, which Senator Tuberville is targeting, was introduced in February. It allows service members to take leave and receive reimbursement for travel expenses when seeking an abortion or certain fertility treatments that are not available at their bases. This policy came into effect in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling to reverse “Roe v. Wade” last year, which led to multiple states passing stringent abortion regulations.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, expressed concerns about the damage Senator Tuberville’s actions were causing to the military. Other Republicans have also voiced their disapproval of Senator Tuberville’s tactics, leading to increasing pressure on him to relent.
Several Republicans have started publicly criticizing Senator Tuberville for his actions. They have attempted to call up pending promotions for military officers one by one to persuade him to stop blocking them. So far, Senator Tuberville has refused to do so.
A few Republicans took to the Senate floor to express their concerns about Senator Tuberville’s tactics, arguing that his actions are damaging the military.
Senate Democrats are attempting to persuade Republicans to join them in a procedural maneuver that would bypass Senate rules. This maneuver is being spearheaded by Senators Jack Reed and Kyrsten Sinema and would allow all candidates for general and admiral positions (except Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders) to be confirmed together.
Despite the frustration, no Republicans have committed to the procedural maneuver. The proposal would require 60 votes to pass, and some Republicans are opposed to it.
Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, and others have not ruled out supporting the procedural maneuver. However, no public commitments have been made by Republicans to back this proposal at this time.
In response, Senator Tuberville has rejected numerous requests to confirm nominees, vowing to maintain his hold until the Pentagon complies with the law or Democrats change the law. Despite the frustration among Republicans, none have publicly pledged their support for the Democratic proposal.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, acknowledged that Senator Tuberville’s approach had reached a breaking point, and she suggested that the resolution might come up for a vote.