Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and Senate Republicans are racing to find a solution to his hold on more than 400 military promotions but are coming up empty-handed as frustration mounts and his blockade hits the eight-month mark.
The senators are facing a deadline of sorts. They want to avoid a vote next week on a standing order resolution that would temporarily change the chamber’s rules and allow it to pass promotions en bloc through the end of next year. Israel’s battle against Hamas is also creating a fresh sense of urgency.
The Senate GOP held a rare conference meeting Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to map a way out of the Alabama Republican’s maze of holds, which he is using to protest the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
But senators exiting the meeting indicated that while some progress was made, no solution was immediately evident.
“We all want to get this behind us. But we also want to look out for the unborn and our military,” Tuberville told reporters.
Most Republicans would prefer to sidestep the looming standing order resolution, which was crafted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), saying that it would create an unnecessary precedent.
“Even though it doesn’t formally create a precedent, it does create a precedent at a time when we’ve given up so much,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “Part of it is because Congress has ceded authority, and part of it is congressional dysfunction has allowed the executive branch to do whatever they want.”
Tuberville on Tuesday released a memo to senators laying out four avenues that would allow him to release his holds: the Pentagon deciding to rescind its abortion policy, the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) including a provision that repeals the policy, the use of private funds to pay for such travel for service members and the continuation of individual roll call votes to cement promotions.
None are considered realistic.
The Pentagon has shown no signs of bowing to Tuberville’s demand since he announced it in February. Senate Democrats are highly unlikely to allow the NDAA, the mammoth annual defense policy bill, to include the provision he is requesting.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) raised the question of using private or charitable funds last week, as a quartet of Senate Republicans with military backgrounds took to the floor in an attempt to confirm nominees via unanimous consent — attempts Tuberville spent hours shooting down.
Romney, however, admitted to reporters that the idea remains far-fetched.
“While I think it’s a reasonable proposal, I think it could be just as easy for … a Democrat senator to say, ‘Unless you’re going to apply this travel provision to soldiers stationed overseas, I’m going to hold up all promotions.’ In which case, we got ourselves another stalemate,” Romney said ahead of the conference meeting.
“I think we’re going to have to find a different way and negotiate the settlement because I think the [Pentagon] has its hands tied,” he added.
Senators could very well move ahead with more individual promotions on the floor, as they have with a handful of top brass. But Democrats have warned that they have no plans to spend countless hours working through hundreds of promotions.
Among the options that are also considered nonstarters to the former Auburn University football coach is legal action. A lawsuit could take months or years, and that’s only if a senator is granted standing to bring one up.
Tuberville told reporters that acceding to some unanimous consent requests “here and there” is also on the table for him.
For now, Republicans remain frustrated by the situation.
One Senate GOP member said the meeting was “unproductive” and that it’s time for Tuberville to back down, especially after news emerged that only about a dozen service members have used the Pentagon’s abortion policy since it went into effect late last year.
“The original impetus was his fervent belief that there was going to be 4,000 cases a year. There’s been roughly a dozen,” the Senate Republican continued. “When facts change, your decision changes. Yet his decision hasn’t changed.”
Tuberville told reporters that talks will continue on in the coming days with the GOP members who took the fight to the Senate floor last week and a number of Senate conservatives in search of a resolution.
But given that the holds have been in place since early March and the little movement throughout the ongoing stretch, finding a palatable solution might be a tall task.