Republican Frustrations With Tuberville Boil Over, as Key Senators Push for Promotion of Military Officers

One senator hopes to see Tuberville withdraw his objection so that outside groups can sue the defense department over its abortion policy.

AP/Mariam Zuhaib, file
Senator Tuberville during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, July 12, 2023, on Capitol Hill. AP/Mariam Zuhaib, file

Key Republican senators are pushing Senator Tuberville to abandon his nine-month blockade of more than 370 general and flag officers’ promotions. The Alabama senator says he will not relent until the Department of Defense abandons an abortion leave policy, which has led Senator Schumer to propose a Senate rule change that some Republicans fear would have far-reaching and adverse consequences. 

The Sun spoke with some of those Republican senators pushing for the officers’ promotions on Thursday. “We are holding them hostage,” a 23-year veteran of the Army, Senator Ernst, says of the nominees. “This is unacceptable. … We are going to keep working.”

On Wednesday night, Ms. Ernst and three colleagues who are also veterans of the Armed Forces — Senators Sullivan, Graham, and Young — spent several hours on the Senate floor asking for “unanimous consent” to approve 60 of the officer nominees, but Mr. Tuberville was in the back of the chamber, objecting every time. 

“There is no institution I honor more in this world than the United States military,” Mr. Tuberville said. “The disagreement we’re having today is about tactics.”

Mr. Tuberville placed a hold on the general and flag officer nominations earlier this year following the enactment of a new defense department policy allowing service members and their dependents to take paid time off to have abortions. The military would also pay for travel and lodging if those service members needed to travel out of their home state should it have the more restrictive abortion laws that have proliferated in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned last year. 

Mr. Tuberville argues that the Biden administration is blatantly breaking the law. “Congress never voted for this” policy, he said. “We also never appropriate the money for this. … There is a law that says they can’t do this.” The law to which he is referent, 10 USC Section 1093, explicitly states, “Funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to perform abortions except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or in a case in which the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.”

Republicans also argue that the defense department policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which stipulates that no federal dollars may be used to fund abortions or fund healthcare benefits for abortions. 

Ms. Ernst and Mr. Graham, like Mr. Tuberville, ardently believe that the policy is illegal. “We have to find someone with standing” to challenge the policy in federal court, Ms. Ernst tells the Sun. She wants private, nonprofit organizations to launch the lawsuit quickly so Mr. Tuberville will be satisfied by a court striking down the policy, as she believes will happen. 

“They should be stepping up and challenging this darn policy,” she says, deeply frustrated. “We feel it’s illegal, they feel it’s illegal. Then do something about it. We need them to engage in this issue.”

One possible way out of this blockade is a change to the Senate rules, which Mr. Schumer is proposing. Under current Senate rules, any one senator can come to the floor and place a hold on an executive branch nomination, halting it in its tracks. No senator has ever issued a blanket hold on all military promotions, however. 

Ms. Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday that he is working on a resolution that would allow the Senate to overcome Mr. Tuberville’s objections. His proposed rule changes were announced shortly after the commandant of the United States Marine Corps suffered a medical emergency at his home and was rushed to the hospital. Today, there is no deputy commandant in situ because of Mr. Tuberville’s objections. 

“Patience is wearing thin with Senator Tuberville on both sides of the aisle,” Mr. Schumer said. “What happened with the Marine commandant just showed many people how dangerous what Tuberville is doing is. And so I will call for a resolution on the floor to allow us to vote on all these people at once. And I’m very hopeful and optimistic about it.”

Republicans, though, do not want to see any rule changes. Mr. Graham says that he “is going to keep asking for unanimous consent” on the Senate floor. When asked how long he would continue to do that, he said, “I’m going to keep doing it until I feel I’ve done it enough.”

Ms. Ernst said, “We’re trying to find any way we can to avoid a rules change in the United States Senate, but I think we’re being forced into a position by Democrats, by Schumer, by the president, by DoD.” When asked if he could support such a measure, Senator Kennedy simply said, “No,” even though he is opposed to Mr. Tuberville’s blockade. Senator Cornyn said the same. 

Because of the Alabama senator’s hold, there were month-long vacancies in Joint Chiefs of Staff positions for the first time in history. Just on Thursday, the Senate confirmed Admiral Lisa Franchetti to serve as chief of naval operations and General David Allvin to serve as chief of staff of the Air Force after both of those positions remained vacant for more than a month. 

The New York Sun

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