WASHINGTON (AP) — Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville is leading an unprecedented campaign to try to change the Pentagon’s abortion policy by withholding hundreds of military appointments and promotions, forcing less experienced leaders into positions high-level positions and raising concerns in the Pentagon about military readiness.
Senators from both parties – including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell – pushed back against the Tuberville blockade, but Tuberville is entrenched. He says he won’t give up the holds unless majority Democrats allow a vote on the policy.
For now, the fight is at an impasse. Democrats say a vote on each nominee could tie up the Senate floor for months. And they don’t want to give in to Tuberville’s demands and encourage similar candidate blockades in the future.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said delaying the promotion of military leaders, most of whom have dedicated their lives to protecting the country, “is one of the most abominable and outrageous things I ever seen in this room, as evidenced by the fact that no one has ever had the temerity, the nerve to do this before.
Here’s what to know about the dispute over Pentagon policy.
TUBERVILLE’S BIG BET
Approving military appointments and promotions has long been one of the most bipartisan jobs of the Senate. But the Alabama Republican shattered that norm with his cover take, which the Pentagon says has already blocked more than 260 senior officer nominations and could reach 650 by the end of the year.
Tuberville, a former college football coach who has aligned closely with former President Donald Trump since his election in 2020, has shown few signs of letting up.
Democrats have repeatedly gone to the Senate to try to call the nominations. But Tuberville opposed it every time.
Tuberville says he won’t drop the holds until there’s a vote on Pentagon policy. But he has not introduced legislation to overturn it and insists debate over amendments to change the policy would not count.
Instead, he offered a very specific and unusual strategy: Democrats should introduce their own policy bill and hold a vote.
Democratic leaders such as Schumer, who support the existing policy, say it’s up to the GOP to decide.
“It’s incumbent on Republican senators to prevail over Senator Tuberville and get him off his reckless pursuit,” Schumer said this week.
THE STRENGTH OF ONE
In the Senate, a senator can block nominations or bills even if the other 99 want them to progress.
Typically, leaders of the majority party get around this problem by arranging a series of votes to move a measure and relinquish the sway. It just takes a little longer in the Senate.
But the Tuberville blockade is unique because there are hundreds of military appointments and promotions, and Democratic leaders would have to hold roll-call votes on each of them to circumvent the blockade. It’s a decades-long tradition for the Senate to bundle military promotions and approve them by voice vote, avoiding lengthy roll calls.
So Tuberville put the Senate in a bind. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I., said this week voting on the more than 260 military nominations under due process would take 27 days, with the Senate working “around the clock.” or 84 days if the Senate worked eight hours a day.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE PENTAGON
In addition to hundreds of one-, two-, and three-star generals and admirals, the grabs are delaying the confirmation of top Pentagon leaders — who make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the president.
Already, the US Marine Corps is without a confirmed leader for the first time in a century. And by law, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, will step down at the end of September, and the current Army Chief will step down in early August. Candidates to succeed them had auditions, but no votes.
The Pentagon and lawmakers opposed to Tuberville’s actions say the holdbacks create a ripple effect that hurts military readiness, preventing dozens of officers from changing jobs, whether as candidates or staff. . They argue that less experienced leaders are compelled to step in.
Speaking this week about the acting commander of the United States Marine Corps, General Eric Smith, Tuberville said he believed the catches would have a “minimal effect” on his ability to lead in an acting capacity.
“There may be a delay in his planning advice, and yet he cannot move into the commander’s residence, but there is little doubt about General Smith’s ability to lead effectively,” Tuberville said.
After the Supreme Court struck down the nation’s abortion rights, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released a new policy last October that he said would guarantee all troops access to reproductive health care.
In a memo, Austin said service members and their families are concerned about not having equal access to health care, including abortions. And as many states have begun to impose more restrictions on abortion, he noted that service members who often have to travel for various missions or training would be forced to travel farther, take more time off work and pay more to access reproductive health care.
The problem, Austin said, would create extraordinary difficulties and “interfere with our ability to recruit, retain and maintain the availability of a highly trained force.”
He directed the department to allow troops and dependents, in accordance with federal law, to take time off and use official travel to travel to other states for reproductive care not available locally. This care includes in vitro fertilization and other pregnancy aids that may also not be available nearby.
The policy does not fund abortions. Under federal law, Department of Defense facilities can only perform abortions when the mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest, and such cases have been extremely rare. According to the department, 91 abortions were performed at military medical facilities between 2016 and 2021.
The impasse in confirmations has fueled heated debate this week during Senate Armed Services Committee hearings. A parade of lawmakers also went to the Senate to complain.
During a hearing this week for Air Force Gen. CQ Brown Jr., Biden’s pick to replace Milley as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sen. Tim Kaine warned that the military could choose to leave the military if their careers are blocked.
“I urge all of my colleagues to turn away from the path we are on, where we disrespect and punish people because we are unhappy with the policies of the military that these individuals have nothing to do with. “said Kaine, D. -Virginia.
Tuberville also faced opposition from her side of the aisle.
McConnell said in May that he opposed the Tuberville blockade. And several Republican senators said this week they hoped to find a way to persuade the senator to drop the detentions.
“I think we’re all in it — we want these key positions filled,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second Republican in the Senate.
In the House, Republicans passed a sweeping defense bill on Friday that would overturn the new abortion policy. But Tuberville said that wasn’t enough to make him let go.
Austin called Tuberville to discuss the lockdowns on Thursday, the day President Joe Biden told reporters that Tuberville endangered national security and was “totally irresponsible.”
Through a spokeswoman, Tuberville said he was “grateful” for the call and would discuss the matter with Austin again in the coming week.
It’s unclear, however, if they can find a compromise. Tuberville repeatedly said he would keep his grip until there was a vote.
“We need a vote on this policy on the floor,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t know if it would pass. It could. I do not care. I just want the American people to have a say in this, not the Pentagon.
This story has been updated to correct for the day Austin called Tuberville. It was Thursday, not Friday.