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Tuberville lifts holds on almost all military promotions

Alabama Republican put more than 400 senior military officers in limbo

Sen. Tommy Tuberville said he would no longer block Senate action on promotions for roughly 440 senior military officials, but he would continue to block 11 four-star officers.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville said he would no longer block Senate action on promotions for roughly 440 senior military officials, but he would continue to block 11 four-star officers. (Tom WIlliams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville on Tuesday lifted his holds on more than 400 senior military promotions, paving the way for their confirmation after a 10-month logjam that infuriated military leaders and lawmakers alike.

Tuberville’s move allowed the Senate to quickly confirm roughly 440 nominees that had been in limbo. A further 11 nominees, all four-star officers, will still be subject to individual votes, Tuberville said. 

“It’s been a long fight. We fought hard,” he told reporters. “We did the right thing for the unborn and for our military.”

Tuberville began blocking nominations in February in protest of a Pentagon policy reimbursing travel expenses for servicemembers who must travel out of state to obtain reproductive health care. At first, Senate Republicans largely supported the effort — or at least wouldn’t openly criticize it. 

But patience started to wear thin in recent weeks, particularly after a medical emergency hospitalized Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric M. Smith, who had been working overtime to accommodate unfilled roles. In November, a handful of Republicans took to the Senate floor to demand action on the blocked nominees in a public break with their Alabama colleague.

Meanwhile, Democrats threatened to bring to the floor by the holiday recess a resolution that would have temporarily changed the Senates rules to allow the chamber to consider military nominations en bloc, circumventing Tuberville’s holds. The potential for such a resolution to divide Republicans put a deadline on the GOP caucus’ efforts to resolve the issue internally.

Tuberville said he dropped the holds after leadership boxed him out of conference discussions on the fiscal 2024 defense authorization, which he had floated as a possible avenue for forcing the Pentagon to rescind the abortion policy. Multiple lawmakers have hinted that the compromise NDAA, which could be released any day, does not include a House-passed provision to mandate an end to the travel program.

“Schumer changed the rules on us on NDAA. And when you change the rules, it’s hard to beat somebody,” Tuberville said. “I’d have loved to have five downs in football instead of four. But you can’t do it.”

Alaska Republican Dan Sullivan, one of four senators who publicly pressured Tuberville on the Senate floor, had initially suggested the compromise to allow votes on most of the nominees while still requiring individual consideration for the highest-ranking roles. Three of the 11 jobs, he said, would have needed individual votes anyway under the Democratic resolution.

“These are men and women who have signed a blank check with their lives for America,” Sullivan said. “And the one thing my colleagues have never been able to answer, and that the groups that are trying to stop this have never been able to answer — why are we punishing American heroes who have nothing to do with the dispute?”

Tuesday’s announcement represents an about-face for Tuberville, who spent months insisting that he would maintain his holds until the Pentagon rescinded its policy or Congress passed a law codifying it, thus addressing his concerns about executive overreach. Democratic leaders made several attempts to placate Tuberville by offering a vote on the policy, but none of those overtures broke through.

Still, the former football coach said he had no regrets about the 10-month blockade. 

“The only opportunity you got to get people on the left up here to listen to you in the minority is put a hold on something, and that’s what we did,” he said. “And I think we opened their eyes a little bit.”

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