Military promotions holds enter fifth month as Republicans struggle to appease Tuberville


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The chance that Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) will lift his hold on military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion policy anytime soon has dimmed drastically as Senate Republicans struggle to make a deal with him to end the months-long saga.

The Senate Armed Services Committee this week failed to advance a bill that would have overturned the Pentagon’s policy that covers some expenses for service members who must travel for an abortion. That, coupled with a bitter back-and-forth between Tuberville and the Biden administration and lack of progress in talks with Republicans, means the holds are set to enter their fifth month with no end in sight.

“Either side could make a move and right now neither side seems to think that these nominations are important enough to override the position that they find themselves in,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill. “So we’re at a stalemate.”

As of this week, Tuberville is holding up 250 promotions for general and flag officers that are normally approved on the Senate floor via unanimous consent, and the anger among Democrats has not dissipated. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Tuesday made the 10th attempt by Senate Democrats to advance the military promotions, only to be blocked by the Alabama Republican.

President Biden and the Pentagon also heaped more pressure on Tuberville this week. The president referred to the “former football coach from Alabama” during a fundraiser in Los Gatos, Calif., earlier this week, calling his hold “bizarre.”

“I don’t remember it happening before,” Biden said. “I know I don’t look like I’ve been around, but I’ve been around a long time.”

The Pentagon also slammed at Tuberville earlier this week; Sabrina Singh, the Department of Defense’s deputy press secretary, criticized him for setting a “dangerous precedent” with his actions.

Tuberville remains unmoved.

He told The Hill earlier this week that there has not been internal pressure from Republicans to release his holds and that he has not heard directly from anyone in the administration or the Democratic side in recent weeks, outside of public missives.

“We’ve probably gone backwards on that. Everyone’s gotten a closed mouth on this whole deal,” Tuberville told The Hill.

But what it would take to move him off of his hold remains unclear to many.

Tuberville told reporters that three things could get him to lift the hold on military promotions: A reversal of Pentagon policy, a successful vote to codify the policy or a failed vote to do so, with the latter two options coming both via a bill proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). Tuberville’s staff clarified his comments, saying that a failed vote would not do the trick unless the Department of Defense dropped the policy ahead of a hypothetical vote on the Shaheen bill.

None of the three options are likely, and no one has been willing to budge, meaning stalemate will likely go on for the foreseeable future.

“It seems like everyone’s confused,” one Senate GOP aide said of the Tuberville situation. “I don’t know how we get to a solution here. I’m not sure there’s anyone on this planet that can talk him off of this. Plenty have tried.”

Multiple Senate Republicans in recent weeks have talked to Tuberville about just that, but all have been stymied. Sen Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) brought up an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would rescind the Pentagon’s abortion policy that was put into place late last year, but it was blocked during the markup on the bill this week.

On top of that, Tuberville had indicated already that a committee level vote on the item would not move him off of his hold, even though he voted for it.

“I’m not going for a committee vote,” Tuberville said.

Even those supportive of his push have tried to find a resolution. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill that he has talked with the Alabama Republican about the situation and was hopeful something could be done to rectify things via the annual defense authorization bill.

“I don’t disagree with Sen. Tuberville’s point. But … there needs to be a means to accomplish that,” Cornyn said. “I believe in counting the votes, as opposed to depending on my optimism, and I’m not sure they’re there yet. I’m not sure they’re not there, but I think that’s the way to go.”

Others, however, indicated they are tired of discussing the prolonged back-and-forth.

“I’ve answered a lot of questions about [this],” Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), an Armed Services Committee member, said when asked if she’s sensed any movement on the holds. Fischer initially said that she was not supportive of Tuberville’s tactics before telling reporters that she supports his efforts.

Lawmakers are starting to ask whether they could move certain nominees one by one, burning floor time. The situation will be especially acute next month as five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman Mark Milley, will start to be replaced.

Senate Democrats indicated this week that they are not prepared to do that and are leaning on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has said he does not back Tuberville’s hold, and other Senate GOP members to pressure their colleague from Alabama.

“I don’t know what we’ll do if we have to explore other options,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “Right now, the most feasible and readily available and timely way to solve it is for him to back down and for his colleagues to persuade him that’s the wise course.”