Marine Corps Base Quantico sword detail members march in formation during a ceremony honoring the 248th Marine Corps birthday in Virginia, Nov. 7, 2023. (Marine Corps Cpl. Mitchell Johnson/Department of Defense photo).
WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led Senate Committee on Rules and Administration approved a resolution meant to bypass Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of hundreds of U.S. military nominees as he continues to protest a Pentagon abortion policy.
The Rules Committee voted 9-7 along party lines to, in essence, temporarily change a Senate floor process to allow votes on large groups of military nominees rather than having to approve them one by one. The resolution is seen as temporary because it would extend through the end of this session of Congress rather than permanently.
Whether Democrats can gain enough votes from across the aisle to support the change on the floor is unclear.
The Senate has routinely confirmed large blocs of military nominees under the unanimous consent process, meaning all senators agree to approve the nominees without calling a floor vote on each one.
Tuberville, a Republican, has been objecting to the time-saving unanimous consent process since the spring to display his opposition to a policy that grants members of the armed services time off and travel reimbursement when seeking an abortion in states where it remains unrestricted. The Pentagon policy was authorized after last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who sits on the Rules Committee, said the change would allow “swift confirmation” of the nominees and that he plans to bring it to the floor “shortly” if his GOP colleagues cannot convince Tuberville to drop his freeze on the nominations.
“We need to get these military nominees confirmed ASAP for the sake of our national security. Military nominees for a decade have been the most bipartisan parts of the Senate,” Schumer said.
“The idea of blocking the confirmation of military officers in order to make a political statement, no matter how deeply felt, has long been considered — long been considered — unthinkable,” he said, moving his hands to emphasize his point.
But Republican leadership is advising against changing the Senate procedure.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that while Tuberville’s “nearly unprecedented” strategy “is not — not — the way to reach the desired outcome he and I share,” he will not support the proposed detour around Tuberville’s nomination holds.
“Ultimately the best path forward for everyone involved will be one that allows us to clear the nominations backlog and preserve our substantive opposition to the Biden administration’s atrocious policy,” McConnell said.
The resolution introduced by Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, is in response to the growing list of unconfirmed military nominees stalled by Tuberville.
As of Tuesday, 359 of the more than 450 nominees awaiting confirmation are affected by Tuberville’s blanket hold, according to the Pentagon.
Vote on floor potentially next
Reed, chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said in a statement after the Rules Committee vote that his Alabama counterpart is using “a hyper-partisan maneuver to try and weaponize the military promotion process.”
“Indefinitely blocking all these merit-based military promotions has harmed the national security of the United States,” said Reed, who crafted the resolution with support from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent.
Reed characterized the resolution as “bipartisan.”
“This resolution offers every member of the Senate a chance to vote to either support or overcome this irresponsible blockade. I have faith that senators from both parties care deeply about our service men and women and will do the right thing,” said Reed.
The standing order resolution could now head to the Senate floor, where Democrats, who hold a slim majority, will need the support of nine Republicans to meet the threshold for approval.
No amendments were filed ahead of Tuesday’s committee vote, said Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Rules Committee, who quickly called the vote roughly 20 minutes into the meeting.
“We need to do what it takes to make sure our military has its leaders in place to protect our country,” said Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Republicans largely characterized the change as a blow to the minority’s leverage, despite the Democrats’ argument that the new procedure would expire at the end of the 118th Congress.
The Rules Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, dismissed the resolution as a “political maneuver.”
“At its core, the resolution is an attempt to protect the Biden administration’s poor policy decisions,” Fischer said in her opening remarks.
She, and many of her Senate GOP colleagues including Tuberville, argue that despite a prohibition of taxpayer funds for abortion, the policy “facilitates abortions by paying for travel across state lines to obtain one.”
“This policy not only goes beyond the Department of Defense’s statutory authority, it doesn’t do anything to increase our military readiness and hasn’t even been broadly utilized. Unofficial reports indicate it likely has been used by only 12 women,” Fischer said.
The Biden administration and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin maintain the policy is legal.
The Department of Justice in 2022 delivered an opinion assessing the policy as lawful.
The Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn the federal right to abortion has left a patchwork of state-by-state regulations on the practice.
Roughly 80,000 active-duty female service members are stationed in states where legislatures enacted full or partial bans, according to RAND.
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