U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing for Monica Bertagnolli to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Oct. 18, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are pushing back on Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of hundreds of U.S. military promotions as the upper chamber fills the remaining vacancies on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Senators on Thursday approved Adm. Lisa Franchetti in a 95-1 vote to be the first woman to lead the U.S. Navy. Gen. David W. Allvin’s nomination to be the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force cleared the chamber also in a 95-1 vote. Republican Roger Marshall of Kansas was the lone dissenting vote on both confirmations.
The Senate also approved Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, 86-0, to be the U.S. Marines’ second in command after its top general experienced a serious medical emergency Sunday.
Both Tuberville and GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska collected signatures for petitions to jumpstart movement on the nominees.
But Tuberville said Thursday he won’t drop his hold on more than 370 additional nominees. The Alabama Republican has delayed the process for several months in protest of a recent Department of Defense reproductive care policy that grants service members leave and travel allowances if they need to seek care in U.S. states where abortion remains legal.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn the federal right to abortion has left a patchwork of state-by-state regulations on the practice. Roughly 80,000 active-duty female service members are stationed in states where legislatures enacted full or partial bans, according to RAND.
The Biden administration and Pentagon officials maintain the policy is legal.
Tuberville: ‘Bring them up for a vote’
If his colleagues want to approve more nominees, Tuberville told reporters, “Well, that’s good. Bring them up for a vote, sign a petition like me, give it to Schumer and in 48 hours you got a vote. And that’s all they gotta do. I don’t think some of them even know the rules.” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is the majority leader in the Democratic-controlled chamber.
On Wednesday night, GOP senators, including Sullivan and military veteran Joni Ernst of Iowa, held the Senate floor for nearly four hours asking for unanimous approval of just over 60 of the nominees, one-by-one. Tuberville objected each time.
“That’s what we gave him last night, he objected to all 61 individual votes on the floor of the Senate. So I’m not sure what Senator Tuberville wants now,” Ernst, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, told reporters Thursday.
Tuberville has been obstructing the nominees since February by refusing to join a time-saving unanimous consent process in which senators can approve large blocs of nominees at once rather than enduring the hours- or days-long process to vote on each nominee.
Sullivan, currently a colonel in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve, said Wednesday night on the floor that the nominees “have made huge sacrifices, multiple deployments, and now their careers are being punished by a policy dispute they had nothing to do with and no power to resolve.”
Another way out?
The list of unconfirmed nominees has only continued to grow and could reach 650 by year’s end, according to the Pentagon.
Ernst told reporters Thursday that outside anti-abortion groups should be seeking someone with legal standing to take the issue to court, rather than rely on Tuberville’s protest holds.
“If they believe in life, they should be stepping up and challenging this darn policy. We feel it’s illegal. They feel it’s illegal, then do something about it,” she said.
Senate Republicans will continue to file discharge positions to keep a slow trickle of nominees moving through the chamber, Ernst said, but she disagrees with a Democratic proposal to bypass Tuberville’s holds.
Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, introduced a bill Tuesday that would tweak the chamber’s rules to allow votes on nominees en bloc, rather than having to do them individually.
The rules adjustment would last for the duration of the 118th Congress.
“Well, certainly last night showed there are a number of Republicans that understand we have to get these confirmations done. I think what we’re proposing is a very simple way to do it,” Reed, a Democrat, told reporters Thursday.
Reed would need the support of nine Republicans for his proposal to reach the needed 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
“We all need to be part of that solution, OK. But I’m not willing to commit to a rules change. That’s the last thing we want to see,” Ernst said.
Tuberville’s spokesperson Steven Stafford also received attention Thursday when Politico reported on a leaked email in which Stafford suggested to outside groups that any Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats “will be primaried.”
Stafford sent the email on Oct. 26, within a day of when Reed’s proposal came to light.
Tuberville said Wednesday night on the floor that he intends to “keep my holds in place until the Pentagon follows the law or the Democrats change the law.”
The Alabama Republican and former Auburn University football coach said the policy is “illegal and immoral.”
“The Pentagon is now paying for travel and extra time off for service members and their dependents to get abortions. Congress never voted for this. We also never appropriated the money for this. There is no law that allows them to do this,” Tuberville said.
Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.
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