4 Republican Senators Again Press Tuberville to Relax Hold on Military Nominations

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
November 16, 2023Politics
4 Republican Senators Again Press Tuberville to Relax Hold on Military Nominations
U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) introduces former U.S. President Donald Trump during the Alabama Republican Party’s 2023 Summer meeting at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel in Montgomery, Alabama, on Aug. 4, 2023. (Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

A group of four Republican Senators attempted to advance votes on promotions and nominations for numerous U.S. military officers early on Thursday morning in their latest effort to circumvent fellow Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) hold on the Senate confirmation process.

Through the early hours on Thursday morning, Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took turns requesting unanimous consent to proceed to individual votes on military nominees. Mr. Tuberville, with the help of Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), responded by objecting to their fellow Republicans’ motions, thereby blocking unanimous consent to advance these votes.

Mr. Tuberville has for months blocked the Senate from using unanimous consent motions to collectively confirm military promotions. He initiated this block as a means of challenging a Department of Defense (DOD) policy of funding abortion-related travel and leave time for its service members, a policy Mr. Tuberville contends goes against federal laws which bar the use of federal funds to pay for abortions.

The Senate routinely uses unanimous consent motions to rapidly confirm multiple military nominees in a single en bloc vote. The Alabama Republican has consistently said he will oppose any unanimous consent motions to advance the military nominees until the DOD either withdraws the abortion-travel policy or Congress clarifies federal law to explicitly allow federal funds to cover such abortion-related travel. While he has blocked unanimous consent motions on military nominees, Mr. Tuberville has held open the option for the Senate to confirm individual nominees through a slower cloture process, which allows for a post-cloture period of debate on each individual nominee.

By requesting unanimous consent for individual votes on military nominees, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Young, Mr. Graham, and Ms. Ernst, would have created a middle path where the Senate would not advance all the military nominees through en bloc votes, but would still move the nominees along faster than they would under the cloture process.

These four Republicans attempted the same tactic two weeks prior, only for Mr. Tuberville to object to their unanimous consent requests then as he did again on Thursday morning.

Republicans Argue Over Right Delay Tactic

By requesting unanimous consent to advance votes on individual nominees on Thursday morning, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Young, Mr. Graham, and Ms. Ernst argued that their solution satisfies Mr. Tuberville’s demand for individual votes on the nominees.

“[Mr. Tuberville] said many times that if you bring up the nominees one by one, he’d be fine with it,” Mr. Sullivan said. “On Sept. 6, he said, ‘I’m not holding up nominees from being approved. They can bring them to the floor one at a time and I won’t block them.’ That’s what we’re doing, by the way.”

Prior to this Sept. 6 remark, Mr. Tuberville specifically wrote in a Washington Post op-ed as far back as June that he was blocking unanimous consent specifically, but did not preclude individual confirmation votes through other means.

“I’ve said all along that I will drop my hold on unanimous consent under only two conditions: Democrats can follow the law, or change the law,” Mr. Tuberville wrote in June. “This is not too much to ask. In practice this means that, if the Democrats want to rush through these nominations by unanimous consent, then either the Pentagon must suspend the policy memo or Congress must pass legislation authorizing the policy.”

Mr. Lee, arguing in defense of Mr. Tuberville’s tactic on Thursday morning, said the point of blocking unanimous consent motions was to force Congress to take the “slow path” on all military nominations until the DOD either retracts its abortion travel policy or Congress changes the law.

Amid these months of holds on the unanimous consent process, the Senate has advanced just six military nominees through the cloture process and more than 450 military officers are still awaiting a decision on their promotions and nominations. Amid the delays in the military confirmation process, some military officers have pushed back their retirement timelines while others have proceeded to fill high-level positions in an acting capacity, while other military roles have been left vacant.

Mr. Young and the other Republicans seeking to get Mr. Tuberville to relax his hold on the unanimous consent process argued that these delays are now starting to undermine military readiness.

“I am pro-military and I am pro-life,” Ms. Ernst said. “I also do not relish the fact that I am standing on the floor of this evening as we try and bring these nominations forward, but I understand the national security risks that are out there and the detriment to readiness as we continue to hold over 450 of the finest men and women.”

Addressing those arguments about military readiness, Mr. Lee argued that Republicans should direct their concerns about military readiness back at the Biden administration for not withdrawing the abortion travel policy, rather than criticizing fellow members of his party.

Mr. Graham said he agreed that the DOD abortion travel policy is illegal but said it would be better to challenge the policy with a lawsuit in federal court. Mr. Lee argued in response, that this method requires costly litigation and that it would be challenging to establish the legal standing required to bring such a lawsuit.

Mr. Sullivan also argued that Mr. Tuberville should shift his position from stalling nominations for military officers to instead stalling nominations for civilian members of the DOD.

Democrats Advance Resolution to Bypass Tuberville Holds

The Thursday morning Senate floor debate between Republicans played out as Democrats this week advanced their own strategy to bypass Mr. Tuberville’s holds on military nominations.

The Democrat strategy, led by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), entails the passage of a standing order resolution that sets conditions for lawmakers to set up en bloc votes on multiple military nominees through a cloture motion rather than exclusively under the unanimous consent rules. If passed, the resolution would allow Democrats to advance most military nominee votes en bloc through a simple majority vote, rather than allowing Mr. Tuberville or other Republicans to oppose the unanimous consent motions currently needed in order to confirm multiple nominees in a single vote.

Mr. Reed’s resolution includes a limited exception that bars en bloc considerations for nominees to positions on the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and for commanding officers of the various military combatant commands. The standing rule would not apply to non-military nominees awaiting Senate confirmation and would remain in effect for the remainder of the 118th session of Congress, which ends on Jan. 3, 2025.

On Tuesday, the Senate Rules Committee voted 9–7 along party lines to advance Mr. Reed’s resolution. It now awaits a full vote on the Senate floor, where it would require the support of all 51 Democrats and independent senators, as well as nine Republicans, to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to pass.

Despite some Republicans pushing against Mr. Tuberville’s military holds, no Republicans have voiced support for Mr. Reed’s proposal for breaking the logjam on military nominations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has expressed disagreement with Mr. Tuberville’s strategy, was among the seven Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee who voted against advancing Mr. Reed’s resolution on Tuesday.

“Ultimately, the best path forward for everyone involved will be one that allows us to clear the nominations backlog and preserve our substantive opposition to the Biden administration’s atrocious policy,” Mr. McConnell told the Washington Times on Tuesday. “I appreciate the work put into the standing order proposal that the committee is considering, but I’m going to oppose going that route at this particular moment.”

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