Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) on Wednesday evening faced pressure from four of his fellow Republicans to relax his opposition to a military abortion-travel policy in order to allow the Senate to confirm 61 military nominees.
For months, Mr. Tuberville has maintained a hold on the Senate confirmation process, preventing the body from using its unanimous consent rules to confirm multiple military promotions and nominations in a single vote. While the Alabama Republican’s hold prevents these batch votes, the Senate can still confirm individual military nominees through its normal cloture procedures, though this entails time for debating the individual nominees and makes for a lengthier confirmation process.
Mr. Tuberville is specifically maintaining the hold in an effort to force the Department of Defense to reverse a policy that compensates DOD personnel for abortion-related travel and allows them to take off time for such abortion-related travel without being charged for leave time. Mr. Tuberville contends this policy runs afoul of existing federal law, which prohibits federal funds from going to abortions unless in cases where a pregnancy comes as a result of rape or incest or threatens the life of the mother. For months, Mr. Tuberville has said he will keep blocking unanimous consent confirmation votes until the DOD either withdraws the abortion-travel policy, or Congress passes legislation expressly permitting federal funds to go toward abortion-related travel.
Some Senate Republicans have criticized Mr. Tuberville’s efforts to pressure action on the military abortion-travel policy. On Wednesday night, Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) took to the Senate floor to request unanimous consent votes for 61 senior military officers, giving them individual confirmation votes but still using the unanimous consent rules to speed the process along. For more than four hours, the quartet of Senate Republicans took turns presenting the names of the various military officers, touting the service records of those officers, and detailing the vacancies within the military ranks that have resulted from the slowed confirmation process.
“America needs to have our best players, most combat-capable leaders, on the field. And right now, that’s not happening. It needs to change,” Sen. Sullivan, a retired Marine Corps colonel and current members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at the start of the floor discussions on the military nominees.
Mr. Sullivan said he is “as pro-life as they come” and that he strongly disagrees with the DOD’s abortion-travel policy and believes it is illegal. The Alaska senator said he’s also worked with Mr. Tuberville to get the policy reversed and to find compromises and has also joined in pressuring the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to process more military nominees through individual votes in the meantime.
“But I also firmly believe that one of our most core basic principles, certainly as Republicans, . . . is our serious focus on national security readiness, a strong military and taking care of our troops and their families,” Mr. Sullivan continued.
The Alaska Republican shared an estimate that by the end of the year, up to 89 percent of the U.S. military’s generals and admirals will have been impacted by Mr. Tuberville’s hold on military confirmations, requiring those officers to delay retirements, fill duties in an unconfirmed acting capacity, or leave positions unfilled.
“This is hugely disruptive to readiness,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Tuberville Fends Off Republican Pressure
Despite their efforts to request unanimous consent votes on just a fraction of the more than 370 pending military nominees, Mr. Tuberville objected to each individual unanimous consent motion.
“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. In fact, there is a law that says they can’t do this,” Mr. Tuberville said in remarks near the start of the four-hour floor discussion on the military nominees.
Mr. Tuberville reiterated his position that he intends to keep slowing the military nomination process to force a reversal of this abortion-travel policy.
“I cannot simply sit idly by while the bottle administration injects politics in our military, again injects politics in our military from the White House, and spends taxpayers dollars on abortion. The only power that a senator in the minority has is to put a hold on a nomination,” he said.
Mr. Graham, pushing back, said there are other means to force a reversal of the military abortion-travel policy besides preventing unanimous consent votes on military nominees.
“Let me respond to my colleague respectfully. We have courts,” Mr. Graham said. “If you think they’ve done something illegal, go to court, that’s how you handle these things.”
Mr. Tuberville noted Senators have stopped unanimous consent votes in the past, including on military nominees.
“Holds on military nominations have happened many, many, many, many times before,” Mr. Tuberville said. “Typically, they don’t last as long because administrations will work with a senator until the issue is resolved. But that has not happened this time. Zero negotiation.”
Toward the end of the more than four-hour effort, Ms. Ernst implied Mr. Tuberville had broken his word by objecting to individual confirmation votes.
“We have done the best that we can to honor the request of a fellow senator that these nominations be brought to the floor and voted on individually. And I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honor their word,” Said Ms. Ernst, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard after 23 years. “I anticipated a man of his word would honor his word. We haven’t heard an explanation, but I’ll tell you this was not time wasted tonight. I will do this all over again.”
In a June op-ed for the Washington Post, Mr. Tuberville wrote that he was blocking unanimous consent confirmation votes specifically but did not preclude individual confirmation votes through other means. Ms. Ernst, Mr. Young, Mr. Sullivan, and Mr. Graham sought votes on these 61 military nominees through the unanimous consent measures specifically.