WASHINGTON — Dozens of military promotions continue to languish in the Senate as GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville digs in on blocking typically routine approvals over his opposition to the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
About 200 defense-related promotions are awaiting Senate action, but Tuberville has indicated he has no plans to ease up on his blockade unless the Defense Department reverses course on an abortion policy for service members and their dependents that was announced in October.
Since March, Tuberville has been using a procedural tactic to slow promotions that are often quickly approved in the Senate by unanimous consent. One senator’s objection, however, can stall the approval process.
The Alabama senator’s moves have provoked bipartisan backlash, including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Asked in a press conference Wednesday about Tuberville’s holds, McConnell replied, “No, I don’t support putting a hold on military nominations. I don’t support that.”
Tuberville responded to McConnell’s remarks on Thursday saying the Pentagon has not been responsive.
“I’m not talking to anybody — crickets from anybody in the military, you know, to work this out,” Tuberville told reporters.
When reached for comment, a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “and the Department continue to engage Senator Tuberville and his office in good faith and have directly relayed how his hold on our general and flag officers have risks to our military readiness and severely limit the Department’s ability to ensure strategic and operational success.”
A Tuberville spokesperson said Friday that some of the senator’s aides have been in touch with the Defense Department “a little bit.”
“If Secretary Austin is so worried he can’t live without these nominees, he can suspend his memo,” Tuberville said in a Senate floor speech Wednesday. “That’s all he has to do. Drop your memo, and these nominees will proceed by unanimous consent. I’m a man of my word. I’ll stand down. Until then, I’m standing up for the Constitution and the unborn.”
Defense Department policy provides paid time off and travel expenses for service members and dependents seeking abortions.
Austin shared his “deep concern” over Tuberville’s actions in a May 5 letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is the chair of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel.
“This indefinite hold harms America’s national security and hinders the Pentagon’s normal operations,” Austin wrote. “The United States military relies on the deep experience and strategic expertise of our senior military leaders. The longer that this hold persists, the greater the risk the U.S. military runs in every theater, every domain, and every Service.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed Tuberville’s holds in a floor speech Thursday.
“His actions are dangerous, his words are gravely damaging and his refusal to think about the consequences of his actions on our military personnel and families is a stain upon this chamber,” Schumer said.
Schumer’s comments on Tuberville, who voted to confirm Austin in 2021, were also a rebuke of the senator’s recent comments on white nationalists in the military.
Asked in an interview with Birmingham-based radio station WBHM whether he thinks white nationalists should be allowed in the military, Tuberville responded, “Well, they call them that. I call them Americans.”
A Tuberville spokesperson later told NBC News that calling the senator’s white nationalist comments misinterpreted “would be the understatement of the century.”
CORRECTION (May 12, 2023, 9:05 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the status of pending military promotions. They are awaiting Senate approval. They have not been scheduled for a vote on Monday. » …