Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville has been holding up the nominations of hundreds of military leaders and flag officers in response to a Department of Defense policy that provides travel compensation and leave for armed services members who are stationed in states where abortion is severely restricted or banned. (Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Despite warnings from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that vacant top military positions affect readiness, Congress is heading into August recess with hundreds of defense nominees on hold as Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues his protest against the Defense Department’s abortion leave policy.
As of Thursday, 301 military nominees had not yet reached the U.S. Senate floor for approval, normally a smooth and quick process for the upper chamber, which approves the nominees in large blocs.
Tuberville is blocking the nominations in response to a policy that supports service members’ travel for “non-covered reproductive health care.” The administration instituted the directive after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
Roughly 80,000 female service members are stationed in areas where reproductive services, including elective abortions, are severely restricted or not available, according to a RAND analysis.
When asked how he felt about going into recess leaving top military spots vacant, Tuberville told reporters: “On the whole it’s not my job to change this. (The Biden administration) changed this. Let’s vote on it on the floor, I mean it’s pretty simple.”
During a press conference last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he would be open to Tuberville’s request for a standalone floor vote on the policy.
Tuberville maintains he has not received any direct communication from the majority leader.
He said he also hasn’t received communication from leadership about bringing the nominees for individual votes — a process that, if not shortened, could take months of floor time.
“They’re not concerned about it,” Tuberville said.
Schumer faces the issue of scarce floor time. To circumvent Tuberville’s hold the majority leader would need to bring nominees to the floor individually, which could all but halt the Senate.
At a Thursday night press conference as the Senate readied to leave the nation’s capital for a month, Schumer said Republican leadership is responsible for convincing Tuberville to release the holds.
“I think in August, pressure is going to mount on Tuberville, and I think the Republicans are feeling that heat,” Schumer said.
Multiple senators joined Committee on Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed of Rhode Island in a late-night Senate session Wednesday to speak out against the months long delay.
Biden said last week that Tuberville’s blockade is “not only wrong — it is dangerous.”
Schumer’s office did not respond Thursday to a States Newsroom inquiry on whether Schumer has directly reached out to Tuberville.
The Senate is scheduled to return to Washington after Labor Day.
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