WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats pushed ahead Tuesday with a resolution that would allow for the quick confirmation of hundreds of military nominees, an attempt to maneuver around a blockade from Sen. Tommy Tuberville over a Pentagon abortion policy.
Almost 400 military nominations are in limbo, and the number is growing because of Tuberville's blanket hold on confirmations and promotions for senior military officers. Despite bipartisan outrage and pressure from members of his own party, the Republican Alabama senator has dug in as he fights the Pentagon to end its abortion policy. It is a stance that has left key national security positions unfilled and military families with an uncertain path forward.
"There has been a lot of negativity and dysfunction in the Senate these days, but Senator Tuberville has single-handedly brought the Senate to a new low," Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, said at the committee meeting.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 9-7 to approve a resolution that would allow the Senate to confirm groups of the military nominees at once for the remainder of the congressional term. The Senate has traditionally confirmed large batches of military officers together, but that process can be upended by just one senator who objects.
The resolution will now head to the Senate floor for a vote, where Democrats will need at least nine Republican votes for passage. While Republicans on the rules panel opposed the measure, arguing that the move could erode the powers of the minority in the Senate, some have signaled they might change their minds if Tuberville does not drop the holds before then.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who criticized Tuberville's holds before the committee vote, said he would oppose the Democratic resolution "at this particular moment."
Of Tuberville, McConnell said that "unfortunately, our colleague has chosen instead to exert his leverage on career military officers with no influence over this administration's policy priorities."
Tuberville has said he is open to negotiating an end to his holds on almost 400 military nominees, which he first announced in February. But he has not yet signaled that he will drop them.
Frustrated Senate Republicans challenged Tuberville to drop the holds and confronted him on the floor for more than four hours, calling up 61 of the military nominations only for Tuberville to stand up and object every time.
Tuberville is blocking the nominations in opposition to new Pentagon rules that allow reimbursement for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. President Joe Biden's administration instituted the new rules after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion and some states have limited or banned the procedure.
Senior military officials have warned repeatedly that Tuberville's blockade threatens readiness and national security. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the delays are hurting readiness and have "unnecessarily weighed down our military families, who already give up so much to support those who serve."