Senators plot to unblock military promotions as Tuberville draws GOP ire

By | November 3, 2023

Senate Democrats are trying a new strategy to break Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of top military promotions, as pressure mounts among his Republican colleagues and Defense Department officials to end his several-year tenure. month in protest against the Pentagon’s abortion access policy.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, said Wednesday he would seek to temporarily circumvent the chamber’s rules to allow nearly all military nominees to be confirmed as a bloc. A vote could take place as early as next week.

It would restore what was standard practice in the Senate before Mr. Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, blocked a set of officer promotions in February because of a Pentagon policy offering leave and travel reimbursement to military personnel seeking an abortion or fertility care.

Although it is unclear whether Mr. Schumer will have the support needed for his maneuver, he announced that he would attempt it amid growing frustration among Republicans and within the Defense Department over the blockade of nine months imposed by Mr. Tuberville.

Anger within the Pentagon over the take only intensified this week after Gen. Eric M. Smith, the newly confirmed commandant of the Marine Corps, had an apparent heart attack. Some lawmakers and military officials suggested that General Smith’s collapse was due to his extra workload, as Mr. Tuberville’s tactics blocked his deputy’s confirmation.

“What happened with the Marine commander showed a lot of people how dangerous what Tuberville is doing is,” Mr. Schumer said.

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Lt. Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney as the next deputy commandant of the Marine Corps with unanimous support, after Mr. Tuberville said he would not oppose it given Gen. Smith’s illness .

In a clear sign that pressure is mounting, a handful of Republicans took to the Senate on Wednesday evening to condemn Mr. Tuberville for his tactics, which blocked more than 350 senior military positions. They attempted to call out a large number of pending promotions for military officers one by one, insisting that he stop blocking them – something he repeatedly refused to do.

“It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not, Senator Tuberville, this is causing great damage to our military,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in one of those speeches Wednesday evening. “If this becomes normal, God help the military, because any of us could find a reason to oppose this policy. »

The policy targeted by Mr. Tuberville, announced in February, allows military personnel to take leave and be reimbursed for transportation costs if they must travel to obtain an abortion or certain fertility treatments because such procedures are not available. not available where they are based. This follows last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, who prompted many states to ban or severely restrict abortion. Some doctors and lawyers fear that this decision could eventually lead to new restrictions on in vitro fertilization.

The spectacle on the ground marked the failure of months of behind-the-scenes negotiations in which Republicans publicly defending Mr. Tuberville’s actions and accusing Democrats and the Pentagon of failing to accommodate him, privately pleaded with the senator of Alabama to give in.

Mr. Tuberville’s refusal to do so could prompt some Republican senators to join Democrats in ignoring his protest.

“The dam is starting to break,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, who led unsuccessful behind-the-scenes talks with Mr. Tuberville and is a colonel in the Marine Corps reserves. “Not all attempts at compromise are moving forward, and preparation problems are very real. »

No Republican has yet signed on to this procedural maneuver, an idea floated by Senators Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Kyrsten Sinema, independent of Arizona. This would allow all nominees to become generals and admirals, except for Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders, who would have to be confirmed together.

Since Mr. Tuberville took office, the Senate has confirmed five senior officers as joint chiefs, including Adm. Lisa Franchetti as the next chief of naval operations and Gen. David W. Allvin as the next chief of staff. ‘Air Force. , both of which received near-unanimous confirmation on Thursday.

But introducing and passing each class separately would take up enormous amounts of time in the Senate, crowding out legislative work and confirmations for the rest of the federal government.

A measure to temporarily circumvent Senate rules would require 60 votes to pass, and several Republicans are fiercely opposed to it.

“I’m not in favor of a rule change,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, adding: “I think we see here that once a precedent is set with a rule change, then it’s a slippery slope toward further change, which I think threatens the institution.

Over the past decade, through a series of partisan changes, the Senate dismantled rules requiring 60 votes to confirm nominees to the executive and judicial branches, which are now approved by a simple majority.

“What goes around comes around, and you know it,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, emphasizing that he was wary of bending the rules. “The other side loves it when they do it, but doesn’t love it when it’s done to them.”

But based on their private conversations, some Democrats say Republicans can be persuaded to join them in this effort. Nine Republican senators would be needed to join the chamber’s 48 Democrats and three independents to support ending the Tuberville proceedings.

“A number of them want to jump together,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who helped write the proposal to skirt the rules, adding: “Until there is a public engagement or a vote from each of these nine, we still count.

On Wednesday evening, Mr. Tuberville rejected 61 separate requests to allow the nominees to be confirmed.

“I will maintain my grip until the Pentagon follows the law or the Democrats change the law,” he said.

Despite their palpable frustration, none of the five Republicans challenging Mr. Tuberville on Wednesday night committed to signing the Democrats’ proposal.

“I hope we can find an alternative to this, but something has to give here,” Mr Graham said.

Still, Sen. Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, said he had not ruled it out, and other Republicans also refrained from doing so.

“I don’t like the technique that Mr. Tuberville is using to make his point, and I think it’s reaching a breaking point, quite frankly,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia. “So we’ll see if the resolution comes.”

Helene Cooper reports contributed.

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