Is Sen. Tommy Tuberville's Pentagon promotions pause finally coming to an end?

Senate Democrats prepare a legislative end run around the Alabama Republican's obstructionist blockade

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ark)
(Image credit: Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images)

It's been nearly a year since first-term Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville launched what has become perhaps the defining feature of his short time in office so far: a blanket hold on hundreds of military nominations and promotions which require Senate approval in order to advance. In spite of his campaign promise to "support a strong and robust military" with the "tools and resources" it requires, Tuberville's use of the Senate's hold process has effectively kept major swaths of the country's armed forces in limbo, angering constituents and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

With the Senate's "reputation for collegiality [...] on the ropes" according to ABC News's Tal Axelrod, Tuberville's nearly year-long obstructionism — ostensibly in protest over the Pentagon's policy of covering costs associated with military personnel forced to travel out of state to obtain an abortion — may finally be coming to an end. In a "dear colleagues" letter to Senate Democrats sent Sunday evening, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced plans to "swiftly confirm the hundreds of highly qualified and dedicated military leaders being held up by Senator Tuberville before the end of the year." The move, made possible by a party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate Rule Committee earlier this month, would circumvent Tuberville's "extreme and unprecedented obstruction" which has "eroded centuries of Senate norms and injected extreme partisanship into what has long been a bipartisan process," Schumer wrote. 

Schumer's optimistic pledge to act before the new year notwithstanding, is Tuberville's stranglehold on military promotions truly nearing its end? 

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What the commentators said

While Senate Republicans may be frustrated with Tuberville, they "certainly didn’t want it to come to this," Politico reported, pointing out that the resolution which passed the Rules Committee this month will require at least nine GOP defections to to meet the 60-vote threshold to confirm the pending promotions. Not only are Republicans anxious not to "circumvent the power of an individual senator" but they "don't want to side against anti-abortion advocates" who have applauded Tuberville's stand. 

Schumer's end-of-year deadline comes as Senate Republicans work behind the scenes to convince their colleague to relent on his hold, even as they publicly denounce this month's Rules Committee decision. Predicting to conservative broadcaster Hugh Hewitt last week that "this issue will get resolved," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stressed that "I don’t think the right resolution is a rules change." Instead, Cruz claimed, Republicans "in relatively short order" would find a middle path that "allows the military promotions that need to happen to go forward, but that also allows Tommy to continue to fight, and fight valiantly for the unborn."

One such proposal by Tuberville is to use the annual National Defense Authorization Act which funds the military to negate the current reproductive health policy, prompting Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee to tell Politico "screw him. He lost, and he’s trying to tear down this country because he disagrees with the policy." Any proposal to avoid a Senate showdown and prompt him to lift his hold "would require others to bend, not a concession on his part," The Wall Street Journal reported. Moreover, the paper noted, a number of conservative groups have "aired ads and erected billboards praising him back home." And perhaps most important in this era of Republican politics, "both [former President Donald] Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence have lauded him" for his stance. 

What next? 

While Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has called the push for a 60-vote threshold to overcome Tuberville's hold a "heavy lift among Republicans," fellow conservative Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is reportedly "ready to consider" the resolution — a testament to the efforts of rule co-sponsor Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat-turned-Independent who has lead the effort to "defuse" the situation, according to Politico. Sinema herself told the publication that she's not looking to impose "a timeline" on the bill that would "create partisan fights." But with the clock ticking toward Schumer's self-imposed New Year deadline, time is running out for behind-the-scenes negotiations aimed at staving off a potentially contentious floor vote. 

Lawmakers should "expect long days and nights, and potentially weekends in December," Schumer predicted in his letter to colleagues, promising further scheduling details this week. 

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