Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military promotions and nominations has been going on since February, and more than 300 general and flag officer nominations have piled up in the meantime. The issue has become such a crisis for the military that it’s making Tuberville toxic in his own party. Fellow senators are criticizing him. Republican presidential contenders are criticizing him. It’s so bad that even some House Republicans are telling him to knock it off.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that “holding these non-policymaking career military [officials] who can’t be involved in politics at all is a mistake, and we continue to work on that and I hope at some point we can get it clear.” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas said that Tuberville’s holds are “paralyzing the Department of Defense.” He added that it “is a national security problem and a national security issue. And I really wish he would reconsider this.”
Tuberville is refusing to allow all promotions and nominations of military officers to get to the floor in an expedited vote because he disagrees with the Pentagon policy that allows service members paid leave to, if necessary, travel to obtain out-of-state abortion services.
Senate Republicans are all but begging him to relent and narrow his holds to just the higher ranks. Sen. Susan Collins, for one, says she is “very concerned” and is hoping that Tuberville “will reconsider and narrow his focus to only those individuals who have policy responsibilities.”
Republicans have been pushing this solution, which allows them to try to blame Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for the burgeoning crisis. They say that all he needs to do is to bring up the top-ranking officers’ nominations individually instead of under the unanimous consent rule with the rest of the colleagues.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, has the answer to that. The Senate can’t just “pick some of the top people like the service chiefs and vote on them” while Tuberville “punish[es] those down the ranks,” he told CNN. He added that the military doesn’t operate that way. “Officers say, officers eat last. You don’t punish the people down the ranks to advantage people up the ranks.”
Handling more than 300 nominations individually would be essentially impossible at this point. Back when there were 273 pending nominations, Senate Armed Service Chair Jack Reed asked the Congressional Research Service to determine how long it would take under standing Senate rules to do it. It “would take the Senate approximately 689 hours and 20 minutes of floor consideration, plus two days of session at the start of the process for cloture to mature on all 273 nominations,” the CRS calculated.
That’s “approximately 30 days and 17 hours,” working on the assumption that senators “worked 24 hours a day without break or interruption by other business.” If they worked regular eight-hour days and did nothing besides these nominations, the CRS said it would take about 89 days to approve 273 nominees. That cannot realistically happen. For one thing, the government has to be funded.
The unprecedented public pressure campaign from the military’s top leaders is adding to the growing unease within Republican ranks. The last thing Republicans want is to be labeled as anti-Defense Department. They’re feeling that heat and distancing themselves from Tuberville. Democrats absolutely need to keep that pressure on and not relent by breaking out votes.
It also means that Democrats should keep pressuring their leadership on some kind of rule change to take advantage of the growing GOP fissure. But what they really need to do to isolate Tuberville and roil up the GOP is to exploit his absences. Any time he’s not around, a Democrat can go to the floor and call for unanimous consent to approve a bloc of nominees. That would force Republicans to make a choice: stand in for Tuberville and object the motion, or let it go.
Democrats need to hold every single Republican responsible for what Tuberville is doing. He’s not going to relent on this, so Democrats might as well force Republicans to take sides.
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