Tuberville Offered Vote in Senate But Still Won't Drop Hold on Military Promotions

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, talks to reporters as he faces backlash for remarks he made about white nationalists in an interview about his blockade of military nominees, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A key Senate committee will debate a bill to roll back the Pentagon's abortion policy, but the senator who has blocked hundreds of military promotions because of his opposition to the policy says he still won't relent.

The Senate Armed Services Committee announced Wednesday that, before it debates its sweeping annual defense policy bill next week, it will also vote on a separate bill that would bar the Pentagon from providing leave and travel expenses to troops seeking abortions and other reproductive health care.

The move comes after Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who has single-handedly delayed more than 250 military promotions, said he was opposed to resolving the standoff by debating the abortion policy as part of the defense policy bill. In total, the Pentagon has said the senator's hold could eventually hold up the promotions of about 650 general and flag officers this year.

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Tuberville said Thursday that a committee vote on a stand-alone abortion bill is also not enough to get him to back down.

"A committee vote doesn't mean anything," Tuberville told reporters, adding that he will drop his blockade only if the Pentagon rescinds its policy or Congress codifies the policy.

Shortly afterward, Tuberville objected on the Senate floor to the request by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to confirm Rear Adm. Yvette Davids as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy before a new class arrives on campus next month.

Since late February, Tuberville has used a procedural tactic known as a hold to stop the promotions of all nominees for general and admiral, stonewalling movement on O-7 ranks and above. While a hold cannot prevent the Senate from confirming nominees, it does mean the chamber has to take individual roll call votes on each nominee rather than approving them in batches in a voice vote as it typically does for military nominees.

Taking roll call votes on all the nominees trapped in Tuberville's hold could take months, making doing so impractical. Senate Democratic leaders have also expressed concern that confirming the nominees in roll call votes could encourage other senators to use similar tactics in future policy disputes.

The urgency to find a resolution to the standoff has grown in recent weeks as several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff approach the legally mandated end of their terms without their replacements confirmed. Most immediately, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger will step down July 10.

Berger's current deputy, Gen. Eric Smith, who has been nominated to replace him, is expected to step into the commandant job on an acting basis after Berger's departure. But Smith will have to walk a fine line to avoid appearing like he is presuming confirmation by holding off any major decisions.

Acting officials are also often viewed with trepidation by foreign counterparts and allies, who don't know how much to trust the choices or assurances of someone who hasn't been confirmed for the job.

While Tuberville rejected the committee vote as an off-ramp to his hold, other Republicans accused Democrats of scheduling the vote as a ploy to kill the bill.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who sponsored the bill being voted on, lamented that it's being treated as a "sidecar" to the broader defense policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. She added that she will "obviously" still offer her proposal as an NDAA amendment in addition to the stand-alone vote.

"I'm hopeful that we can really overturn the DoD's war against the unborn," she said. "I'd like to see the DoD just voluntarily release this recent policy, return it to the way it was before. But they're not going to do it on their own, so I'm going to try and force it."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., denied he scheduled the vote because of Tuberville's hold, saying he did so because Ernst "wanted to make sure she had a vote." Still, he again called on Tuberville to drop his hold, which defense officials have warned harms the force, in part by adding stress to military families who cannot plan for their future.

"His position is untenable, but he still maintains it, unfortunately, to the detriment of the military, and I hope we can correct it," Reed said.

The vote on the abortion bill is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon behind closed doors, followed immediately by the committee's debate on the NDAA.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: 650 Military Promotions Threatened as Senator Shows No Signs of Relenting

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