Senate panel takes a step toward ending Sen. Tuberville's blockade of military nominations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats pushed ahead Tuesday with a resolution that would allow for the quick confirmation of hundreds of military nominees, an attempt to maneuver around a blockade from Sen. Tommy Tuberville over a Pentagon abortion policy.

Almost 400 military nominations are in limbo, and the number is growing, due to Tuberville's blanket hold on confirmations and promotions for senior military officers. Despite bipartisan outrage and pressure from members of his own party, the Alabama senator has dug in as he fights the Pentagon to end its abortion policy. It's a stance that has left key national security positions unfilled and military families with an uncertain path forward.

“There has been a lot of negativity and dysfunction in the Senate these days, but Senator Tuberville has singlehandedly brought the Senate to a new low,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at the Senate Rules Committee meeting where the resolution was approved.

The panel voted 9-7 to approve a resolution that would allow the Senate to confirm groups of the military nominees at once for the remainder of the congressional term. The Senate has traditionally confirmed large batches of military officers together, but that process can be upended by just one senator who objects.

The resolution will now head to the Senate floor for a vote, where Democrats will need at least nine Republican votes for passage. While Republicans on the rules panel opposed the measure, arguing that the move could erode the powers of the minority in the Senate, some have signaled they might change their minds if Tuberville does not drop the holds before then.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who criticized Tuberville’s holds before the committee vote, said he would oppose the Democratic resolution “at this particular moment.” But he did not say whether he might vote for it on the floor.

Of Tuberville, McConnell said that “unfortunately, our colleague has chosen instead to exert his leverage on career military officers with no influence over this administration’s policy priorities.”

Tuberville has said he is open to negotiating an end to his holds on almost 400 military nominees, which he first announced in February. But he has not yet signaled that he will drop them.

Two weeks ago, frustrated Senate Republicans confronted Tuberville on the floor for more than four hours, calling up 61 of the military nominations only for Tuberville to stand up and object every time. At the same time, Democrats started the process for trying to maneuver around his objections.

Republicans who have criticized Tuberville have suggested they may try and persuade him to hold up civilian nominees instead of the military nominations or take legal action against the department, an option that Tuberville has said he's considering. They have also said they will also try to force more votes on nominations if he doesn’t lift the holds.

Tuberville is blocking the nominations in opposition to new Pentagon rules that allow reimbursement for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. President Joe Biden’s administration instituted the new rules after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion, and some states have limited or banned the procedure.

“I cannot simply sit idly by while the Biden administration injects politics in our military from the White House and spends taxpayers’ dollars on abortion,” Tuberville said when his GOP colleagues confronted him on the floor.

Senior military officials have warned repeatedly that Tuberville’s blockade threatens readiness and national security. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the delays are hurting readiness and have “unnecessarily weighed down our military families, who already give up so much to support those who serve.”

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., noted at the meeting that some of those military families whose lives had been disrupted were present for the committee vote.

“Sen. Tuberville has not listened to his Democratic or his Republican colleagues, and many of them have now spoken out on the Senate floor,” Klobuchar said. “He’s not listening to those who run our military, he's not listening to former military officials. So we need to stand up for our military and our national security and allow these promotions to move forward.”