Tommy Tuberville ends Senate blockade on 400+ military promotions

GOP senator has vowed to continue blocking promotions for top brass until Pentagon stops funding abortion-related travel

John Bowden
Washington DC
Tuesday 05 December 2023 23:23 GMT
McConnell: Tommy Tuberville’s military blockade created ‘unprecedented’ situation

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Louise Thomas

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Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville ended his blockade on more than 400 military promotions on Tuesday as he continues to battle the Department of Defense over abortion policy.

The Republican senator had spent months earning his colleagues’ ire with the hold, which had prevented military promotions from being confirmed via voice vote in the Senate, per tradition. Such promotions have never been politicised before, and Senate leaders had vehemently opposed Mr Tuberville using them as a bargaining chip. On Tuesday, more than 400 promotions sailed through the upper chamber after Mr Tuberville’s decision was announced.

Now, he will only continue his hold for four-star generals and above, meaning that only top military brass will be directly affected by his blockade. The senator impulsively scheduled then cancelled a press conference to address the issue on Tuesday; instead, he confirmed the shift in his policy to fellow Republican senators at lunch and reporters afterward.

He told reporters outside the Capitol that he and the administration had reached a “draw”, with neither side winning a real victory.

“It was pretty much a draw. They didn’t get what they wanted. We didn’t get what we wanted,” the senator explained.

“I’m releasing everybody. I’ve still got a hold on I think, 11 four-star generals. Everybody else is completely released from me...It’s over.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, told reporters that they would resume voice votes on promotions “quickly”, and did so just hours later.

The Department of Defense had lambasted Mr Tuberville’s hold on promotions, a rare step into party politics for the nation’s military leadership.

“For someone who was born in a communist country, I would have never imagined that actually one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting communists and other autocratic regimes around the world,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said in a scathing CNN interview.

For months, the senator has sought to use military promotions as a means of pressuring the Biden administration to drop a policy allowing service members to be refunded by the government for any travel and lodging they require in order to seek abortion services should they be stationed in an area where such services cannot be readily obtained. That policy was put in place by the White House last year after the Supreme Court tossed out precedent protecting abortion rights in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health.

White House and DoD officials refused to relent, however, and Mr Tuberville instead found himself accused by members of his own party of hurting military readiness at a time of global crisis. He even took heat from fellow Senate Republicans including Mitch McConnell and Dan Sullivan.

Now, it looks like any chance of forcing the administration to drop the policy may have vanished. Mr Tuberville’s continued hold is not likely to elicit movement from the administration going forward, particularly given his decision to narrow his blockade to four-star generals only. In the end, it may end up being little more than a temporary political stunt; how long it continues from here is likely up to Senate Republican leaders.

“After 10 months of undermining military readiness and the morale of our troops, Senator Tuberville of Alabama has finally lifted his politically motivated hold on hundreds of military nominations,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday evening. “425 highly-qualified, patriotic military leaders have now been confirmed by the Senate to perform their duties as they fulfill their sacred oath to keep our country safe. These confirmations are long overdue, and should never have been held up in the first place.”

The president continued: “Our service members are the backbone of our country and deserve to receive the pay and promotions they have earned. In the end, this was all pointless. Senator Tuberville, and the Republicans who stood with him, needlessly hurt hundreds of servicemembers and military families and threatened our national security – all to push a partisan agenda. I hope no one forgets what he did.”

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