Revamping Senate Rules Tommy Tuberville's Military Blockade

Revamping Senate Rules: Tommy Tuberville’s Military Blockade Sparks Calls for Change

Tommy Tuberville’s Military Blockade

Until now, when the American military faces threats in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Tommy Tuberville, a first-term Republican Senator and former football coach without political experience, and perhaps only half of the knowledge, is single-handedly blocking the promotions of 367 colonels and admirals.

He’s been at it for nine months and hasn’t backed down, even after a visit from Marine Corps Commandant Eric Smith failed to shake his resolve, and Tommy Tuberville’s hijinks may have played a part. As the nominee for Assistant Commandant is stalled, Smith is working 18-hour days in both positions, a situation he had recently deemed unsustainable. (He is recovering in the hospital now, with three-star Marine generals working three jobs.)

Tommy Tuberville’s Stalled Military Promotions

Despite strong pressure from top GOP Senators at the beginning of this week following Smith’s visit, Tuberville’s stance remains unchanged and unaffected.

The latest Senator is an oddity, thriving in the stagnant Senate due to the principles of seniority. Considering whether to confirm the President’s high-level political nominees, the Senate investigates, holds committee hearings, and debates before casting their votes. But for many non-political responsibilities, Senate leadership refers to “unanimous consent,” a process that takes minutes, especially concerning military officers’ nominations and promotions, which number in the thousands every year. There’s no time for individual voting in the Senate, and unless someone in the Senate Armed Services Committee objects, there’s no need to do so.

Tuberville's Stalled Military Promotions
Tuberville’s Stalled Military Promotions

However, according to the rules, even one Senator can object to unanimous consent, thereby stalling the process. For nine months now,Tommy Tuberville has been doing exactly that, affecting the entire slate of military promotions and nominations, including 151 one-star generals and admirals, 137 two-stars, 66 three-stars, and 13 four-stars, more than 40% of all American military generals and admirals.

Tuberville’s Actions Paralyze Key Defense Roles

As a result, the Senate Armed Services Committee has compiled a fact sheet listing the following positions that are either vacant or filled by acting officials who lack the legal authority to make significant decisions: Chief of Naval Operations, Air Force Chief of Staff, Cyber Command Commander (who also serves as the National Security Agency director), U.S. military representative to NATO, Defense Intelligence Agency and Missile Defense Agency directors, Pacific Fleet, 7th Fleet Commander, 5th Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, Air Combat Command, and Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

In September, my written account highlighted the existence of 273 blocked promotions and vacant senior positions. Since then, that number has grown to roughly three-quarters, and if the block continues, it will likely reach 650 by year’s end.

Tommy Tuberville has launched a Crusade against the Defense Department’s abortion policy, objecting to every military promotion and nomination that the Pentagon won’t stop until the abortion policy is abolished. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision last year to reverse Roe v. Wade, the abortion policy was left to the states. The Pentagon said it would fund travel expenses for a service woman seeking an abortion but who resided in a state where it was illegal. (The Justice Department has approved a similar allowance for pregnant prisoners.)

Senator Tuberville’s Abortion Policy Obstruction

Starting in February, Tuberville began blocking every military promotion and nomination, stating that they wouldn’t stop until the Pentagon ends its abortion policy. Since then, DOD and DOJ attorneys have decided that the allowance is legal and have not filed a lawsuit. The Senate Armed Services Committee has rejected efforts to delay the policy, and most Senate leaders count it as certain that it will be rejected in the vote. No one is convinced of Tuberville’s actions.

Senator Tuberville's Abortion Policy
Senator Tuberville’s Abortion Policy

Senate rules allow for formal votes on individual nominated individuals, but for 367 officers, it would take several months to do this one by one. Senate leaders also shy away from granting unanimous consent for senior nominees, saying that it would set a bad precedent. Members of the military hierarchy may think that their immediate senior officers are less important, and in the future, those who obstruct like Tommy Tuberville will be encouraged to follow his example, understanding that rigorous results will be pushed back behind.

Tommy Tuberville’s Senate Standoff

In any case, Schumer scheduled votes on three of them and secured a heavy majority for all three. Admiral Lisa Franchetti for the head of Navy Operations with a 95-1 margin, General David Allvin for the head of the Air Force, and Lieutenant General Christopher Mahoney for the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps with an 86-0 margin.

Tommy Tuberville voted to confirm all three (one was opposed by Kansas Republican Roger Marshall). However, he did not agree to end his objection on the rest of the 364 officers.

So, the deadlock is not going away. Ultimately, the Senate will need to change its rules to overcome Tommy Tuberville’s objections. I would suggest that to block the movement for unanimous consent, you’d need three Senators – not just one. But any change in the rules would require 60 Senators, meaning all Democrats and nine Republicans. The issue is that despite the near-universal theory that Tuberville’s actions are harming national security and military morale, it’s possible that nine Republicans may not be willing to take that step.

Tuberville: A Trump-Backed Stalwart

Most of the Republican “base” is in agreement with Tommy Tuberville‘s stance. In an August CBS/YouGov poll, 68% of primary-voting Republicans said they think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases nationwide.

Tommy Tuberville is also a favorite hobby horse of Donald Trump, who is eyeing a 2024 presidential run despite being implicated in four criminal cases. Tuberville won the Alabama Senate primary in 2022 – although he was in the state for only a short time and despite a financial scandal in which he was a co-owner of a hedge fund – entirely on the basis of Trump’s endorsement. He then easily defeated his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, who had barely won a special election in 2017 after a particularly nasty campaign in which Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor (Moore denied the allegations and was not criminally charged).

The Peculiar World of Tommy Tuberville

In various interviews,Tommy Tuberville has described the three branches of government as the House, the Senate, and the Executive. He has criticized the Navy for being “way too woke,” saying, “We’re making poems on airplanes.” In a radio interview with a Birmingham station, when asked whether white supremacists should be allowed to serve in the military, he said, “Okay, they say to them – I say to them, I’m an American.”

In short,Tommy Tuberville can’t be taken as a serious figure in any way. AL.com political columnist and this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner Kyle Whitmire has called him a “fire hydrant at a crazy talk dog park” that leaves “the usual trails of idiocy” in his wake, “the way a truck leaves behind ‘Vote Pulpwood’ signs.”

In the old days, a Senate leader like Tommy Tuberville would be forgotten, threatening to move his committee’s locations, canceling contracts in his district, looking for someone to challenge him in the next primary. But both parties lack the tools that he has.

In other words, the world is watching this small-town zealot spreading his unique brand of lunacy and wonders if American-style democracy is ultimately imitable.

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