The impasse created by GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military nominations is raising the stakes of the Senate’s final week in session as lawmakers are working frantically behind the scenes to try and find a solution that would get the Alabama senator to back off his slow walking of more than 270 military promotions.
So far, there is no end in sight to the stalemate.
“I’m taking all the fire from the other side, but I’m fine with it. I mean, I knew that was gonna happen. I knew it was gonna be tough, but I’m doing it for the right reasons,” Tuberville told CNN. The Republican senator is objecting to the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing military service members and their families for travel to obtain abortion care.
On Tuesday, Tuberville floated one potential way to move nominations more quickly through the Senate, telling CNN he’d be open to limiting debate time on each individual nominee. He still would want to bring nominees up for a vote one at a time though. That would still take considerable time and would likely still be seen by Democrats as politicizing the military.
“There should be some kind of conversation about how can we get this done if you are not going to change the policy back or not going to vote on the policy, let’s worry about the nominees,” Tuberville told CNN.
“You can cut back on the hours. We can give back time. You can do things like that. We can make it easy, but it would have to be voted on,” he said.
Senate leaders are hoping to wrap up consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act this week, a bill leaders have long viewed as a natural inflection point to get Tuberville to back off his holds.
With the bill on the floor, leaders have options to offer Tuberville amendment votes and senators are hoping to put the issue behind them before the August recess, when many military families typically look to move. But so far the off ramps presented to Tuberville have not been enough to end the impasse, and a briefing from Defense Department officials last week in the Senate Armed Services Committee didn’t convince the Alabama senator that the policy was on firm legal ground, nor did it convince him his holds were having a real impact on readiness.
In the meantime, public pressure on the Alabama Republican over his stand is growing.
Active-duty military spouses hand delivered a petition to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Tuberville on Monday signed by hundreds of military family members who are “deeply concerned and personally impacted by Senator Tuberville blocking confirmation of senior military leaders.”
Responding to the petition, a spokesperson for Tuberville told CNN, “Coach honors, and is grateful for, the service of all of our heroes in uniform. That is why he is working to get politics out of the military using the tools he has as a United States Senator, including his hold.” Tuberville’s office also noted that the holds only apply to generals and flag officers.
Kate Marsh Lord – communications director for Secure Families Initiative which spearheaded the petition – told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on “The Source” Tuesday night that Tuberville’s “thank you” to service members was “empty.”
“He’s not showing gratitude or respect for the military members in office, or who are serving now,” she said. “Military folks are pragmatic and patriotic people. They serve a cause greater than themselves, and I would ask the senator to do the same.”
As for how this will affect military families looking to move, Lord, whose husband has served in the Air Force for 23 years, said the “military is a family business. We’re all serving. We’re all making sacrifices.”
“My family moved this summer,” she said. “As soon as we find out where we’re going, we spend hours researching the new location, looking into schools, looking into where to live, and then we try and do the best that we can to adjust to a new place to get our kids enrolled in school; to find them new sports clubs or find them new ways to make friends and build community – and he’s really putting that on hold for all of these families who are being held up for his political gamesmanship.”
GOP leadership and fellow lawmakers trying to entice Tuberville to back off are treading carefully, knowing that Tuberville is exercising a power that rank-and-file members want to protect for the future while also recognizing that a long-term standoff with the military could have implications on readiness and recruitment.
“I think there are lots of permutations of options that have been batted around and discussed and you know, I think he wants to get an outcome and I agree with him. I think the military overstepped their bounds,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune said. “But, you know, at the same time, we (have) got to have people in positions and particularly positions that are critical to our vital national security interests, and so right now we’re at loggerheads on that, and I don’t know exactly at the moment, what the exit plan is, but there are folks who I know he’s interacting with talking to our members.”
Democratic senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee sent a letter on Monday to McConnell pressing him to pressure Tuberville to drop his holds.
“As the leader of the Republican Conference, we count on you to hold your colleagues accountable when they recklessly cross boundaries and upend Senatorial order. Senator Tuberville’s continuation of this stalemate is reckless, dangerous, and must end,” they wrote.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin finally spoke about Tuberville’s one-man hold on hundreds of military nominations
“This has gone on way too long, and it’s having an impact on our national security. Senator Tuberville professes to understand or know a lot about the military,” Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona, who signed the letter, said. “My experience is he does not and he does not seem to understand what this is doing to our forces … it has a cascading effect. It’s not just about our admirals and generals anymore. There are people that have to move into those jobs beneath them. It’s affecting families. It’s affecting our readiness. And it needs to come to some sort of conclusion here.”
Tuberville’s hold cannot ultimately stop Pentagon nominees from being approved, but moving through dozens of military promotions, which are typically so uncontroversial that they can be approved with a simple agreement, would take months. It would consume the Senate floor and paralyze the body from being able to take up almost any other action, aides say. Still, one option is Schumer could keep the Senate in session to ramp up pressure on Tuberville.
Schumer did not shut the door on keeping the Senate in session during recess to process the nominations, when asked about it last week. But even keeping the Senate in session around the clock for a month isn’t guaranteed to get Tuberville to back off, either.
Behind the scenes, small groups of bipartisan members have been trying to brainstorm a potential path forward.
Some members are looking at potential ways to rein in the Defense Department policy so that it is not as far reaching hoping that could potentially satisfy Tuberville, but it’s not clear DOD would be open to any restrictions.
“There’s small groups of us that have been working to find a path forward that that responds to the concerns that the senator has, but also allows us to move forward with the votes of the nominees,” said Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota. “We think there may be some middle ground. We’ll find out.”
This story has been updated with additional developments.