For several hours Wednesday night, a handful of Republican senators who have served in the military blasted their Alabama colleague Sen. Tommy Tuberville over his hold on military promotions, a serious escalation of the fight and an indication of just how fed up they are with his obstruction. They forced him to stay on the floor and object 61 times to individual officers, and threaten to keep it up until they work through the more than 370 promotions that are now on hold.
Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, and Mitt Romney of Utah requested votes on 61 individual senior officers by unanimous consent, and Tuberville objected to each one. The senators became increasingly frustrated and their comments more caustic and barbed as the night wore on.
Ernst, who along with Sullivan spent the whole of the evening on the floor, pointed out that they were doing exactly what Tuberville had requested: individual votes on the nominees. “We have done the best we can to honor the request of a fellow senator that these nominations be brought to the floor and voted on individually,” she said. “I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honor their word.”
Tuberville refused to back down, insisting that he wasn’t going to release his blanket hold until the Pentagon policy that pays travel costs for service members requiring abortions is ended. He blew off the charge that his actions were harming the military. “I have to respectfully disagree with my colleagues about the effect of my hold on readiness. My hold is not affecting readiness,” Tuberville said.
That really riled up Sullivan. “I want the American people to know, right now, 376 promotions to one-, two-, three-, and four-star generals and admirals are being held.” Sullivan said. “This is pretty much the entire officer corps. This is hugely disruptive to readiness. Mr. Chairman … These are the men and women who run the military.”
Tuberville is “100 percent wrong,” Sullivan continued. “We have a really dangerous world, a really dangerous world right now,” he said. “And to say, ‘Oh, don’t worry, this isn’t impacting readiness,’ with all due respect to my colleague, that’s just wrong. It’s not even a close call.”
Graham tried to confirm a promotion for Maj. Gen. Laura Lenderman, and went after Tuberville directly. “You’ve just denied this lady a promotion. You did that,” Graham told Tuberville. “She had nothing to do with this policy.”
“I just hope we don't do this routinely, because if this is the norm, who the hell was to serve in the military when your promotion can be canned based on something you had nothing to do with?” he continued. “She had nothing to do with this. If you think it's illegal, go to court.”
Democrats didn’t participate because it is far more effective to have Republicans taking on one of their own. However, by the end of the evening, Armed Forces Chairman Jack Reed took over as the presiding officer, backing Sullivan and Ernst as they worked through the 61 officer promotions. That too is a rare occurrence. Senior members like powerful committee chairs don’t have to spend their random Wednesday nights presiding over the Senate. They leave that to the junior senators.
Whether that support will turn enough Republicans against Tuberville to end his blockade isn’t certain. Reed and fellow Democrats have a solution: a resolution that would circumvent Tuberville. Reed explained the resolution to NBC News as a temporary “suspension of the rules” to bypass Tuberville, allowing for most of the officers to be approved in blocs. There were just five Republicans taking on Tuberville Wednesday, but Democrats need nine of them to vote with them on the resolution when it comes to the floor. It hasn’t been passed by the Rules Committee yet.
It’s also not clear that all of these five would be on board with working with Democrats. “I don’t want to, let’s just put it like that,” Ernst said Wednesday. “I do not want to, and I think that we need to take every avenue possible to avoid it. And then let’s take every avenue first and then we’ll debate the next move.”
The senators promised that they will keep coming back to work through all of the officers, one by one, keeping Tuberville on the floor for many late nights. Sullivan promised they’re going to keep going. “Hang in there,” he told the officers waiting for promotions. “We’ll be coming here every night to try to get you confirmed.”
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