US Senate panel moves toward ending abortion-related military promotions blockade

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Tuberville speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A Democratic-led U.S. Senate committee advanced legislation on Tuesday that would clear the way for the quick confirmation of hundreds of military promotions that one Republican senator has been delaying for months to protest Defense Department abortion policy.

The Rules Committee voted 9-7 - along party lines - to send the resolution for a vote in the full Senate. Although Democrats control a 51-seat majority in the 100-member chamber, it was not certain the rule would go into effect because it must receive 60 votes in the chamber to move ahead.

Senate Democrats wrote the legislation in response to Senator Tommy Tuberville's refusal since February to allow quick approval of most promotions of generals, admirals and other high-level military officials to protest the Pentagon's policy of covering abortion travel costs for service members and dependents.

The first-term Republican, who is closely aligned with former Republican President Donald Trump, has refused to budge except for a very small number of promotions, one after a senior commander had a heart attack as he was holding down two jobs.

Several states have limited abortion access since the Supreme Court last year overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a constitutional right to abortion. The Pentagon funds travel so female service members are not denied access to abortion services because they cannot choose where they are stationed.

The resolution would temporarily sidestep Tuberville's holds by allowing many promotions to be considered by the Senate simultaneously.

Under Senate rules, one lawmaker can hold up nominations even if the other 99 all want them to move quickly. Tuberville's blockade has faced opposition from some Republicans as well as Democrats, who say he should make his point on a policy matter by targeting nominees involved with policy, not punishing military members who have earned promotions.

However, Republicans objected to changing the rules, saying it could set a dangerous precedent. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a member of the Rules Committee, said productive discussions with Tuberville about reaching a deal to ease his holds were under way. "I'm of a mind that we ought to allow them to continue," he said.

However, the Senate's Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said he would bring the measure to the floor unless Republicans convinced Tuberville to end his holds.

"We need to get these military nominees confirmed ASAP for the sake of our national security," Schumer said.

Last summer, Tuberville's campaign left the Marine Corps without a commandant for the first time in more than 100 years. Just last week, the senator objected to quick approval of the promotions of 364 officers.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)