Republican Senators Tommy Tuberville and Mike Lee maintained the Alabama Republican’s hold on military nominations despite a group of Republican senators who attempted to push through nominations when they returned to the Senate floor in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
Sens. Dan Sullivan, Joni Ernst, Lindsay Graham and Todd Young began their effort to confirm nominees around 12:15a.m. ET and wrapped around 3:45a.m. ET.
Tuberville was joined by Lee, who objected to confirming every nominee brought up for consideration. Once it became clear that Lee would speak at length every time he objected, the group of senators began reading the resumes of each of the nominees rather than attempting to confirm them one at a time.
As he objected, Lee acknowledged that he understood his colleagues’ concerns about military readiness and politicizing the military and noted that he wouldn’t necessarily have chosen the same approach as Tuberville. However, he insisted that he needed to “defend” the Alabama Republican.
“Notwithstanding the fact that it’s not the particular tactic that I would have chosen, he’s chosen a tactic that’s legitimate, that he has every right to deploy under the rules of the Senate,” said Lee.
Tuberville’s nine-month hold is now affecting nearly 400 military officials looking for Senate confirmation for their promotions. Typically, the nominees are confirmed quickly by voice vote. But Tuberville has placed a hold on all of them until the Pentagon changes its abortion policy unless Congress passes legislation to codify it.
Tuberville says he wants the Pentagon to scrap its post-Roe v. Wade policy providing reimbursements for service personnel who travel out-of-state for reproductive services, including abortions. Sullivan, Ernst, Graham and Young all emphasized that they also disagree with the policy — but attacked Tuberville for objecting to “nominees that have nothing to do” with the Defense Department’s abortion policy.
“We were down on the floor weeks ago, and at that time we promised military members and their families that we had their back, that we would keep coming down to the Senate floor to try to move forward their nominations and confirmations that have been stalled,” Sullivan said.
There is a growing pressure campaign from Republicans who have gone public with their concerns that the Alabama senator’s blockade is hurting military readiness and undermining national security.
GOP senators have threatened to cut a deal with Democrats on a temporary change in Senate procedures to work around Tuberville and approve the nominees as a bloc. The effort would require at least nine Republicans to succeed.
Graham warned that he would vote with Democrats to temporarily change the Senate rules, allowing the Senate to bypass the hold, if Tuberville continues to block quick confirmations.
“I will work with Senator Tuberville and Lee and anybody else and everybody else to find a solution that’s acceptable to them to get us back on track,” he said. “But I promise you this – this will be the last holiday this happens. If it takes me to vote to break loose these folks, I will.”
Sullivan, meanwhile, said, “There is no doubt these blanket holds are creating readiness challenges, not just for flag officers. We’re starting to hear colonels and lieutenant colonels who are being stuck. This is impacting the entire military.”
Graham agreed. “If you do not believe these holds are having an effect on the military, I don’t question your sincerity. I question your judgment,” he added. “This is like a car wreck on I-95. It keeps backing up.”
Ernst also said that these holds represent a threat to military readiness, noting that she was on the floor because, “I understand the national security risks that are out there, and the detriment to readiness as we continue to hold over 450 of the finest men and women that have served their nation honorably under the flag of the nation, and our uniform.”
Tuberville has said for months he would only back off his blockade if the Pentagon eliminated its policy unless Congress passed legislation to formally authorize it. But last week, he signaled new willingness to cut a deal and suggested he was open to the possibility of dropping his hold without the Pentagon removing its policy.
Though it is still uncertain whether the issue will get resolved – and some of the new options he considered would likely prompt Democratic opposition.
Filing a lawsuit against the Pentagon to invalidate the policy that provides reimbursements for military personnel traveling out of state for reproductive services including abortions, including provisions to scrap the Pentagon policy in the annual defense authorization bill and moving forward with some of the key nominees who need to fill some of the most urgent vacancies, are among the ideas that were under consideration.
But the Democratic-led Senate and the White House would almost certainly revolt against including anti-abortion provisions in the annual defense policy bill, something Tuberville dismissed.
Graham pushed for Tuberville to find an offramp that would allow them to push back on the Pentagon’s abortion policy while still confirming nominees – namely, he said they can challenge the policy in court.
“I want to right the wrong of having abortion paid for by public taxpayer dollars from the defense coffers – I think it not only violates the Hyde Amendment, it’s bad policy,” he said. “You say it’s illegal, I tend to agree with you – go to court.”
Lee pushed back, arguing that there is no way they could win this case in a court of law. “They have crafted this thing so deliberately, so maliciously, so carefully, as to make it nearly impossible for anyone – who even could establish standing, which they can’t – to succeed on the merits,” he said.
Young emphasized that he only has “tactical” disagreements with Tuberville’s hold.
“The reason I don’t think this current approach is even constructive is because, as many of my colleagues have already stated, it punishes those brave service members who didn’t develop the policies, and can’t change it,” he said.
He added, “This is personal to me. This is personal to this United States Senator,” noting that several of the nominees he was planning to bring up were in his class at the Naval Academy.
After going through her list of nominees, Ernst reminded her colleagues, “I understand that we have the opportunity to do these holds. But sometimes we have to work very hard to overcome adversity, just as these men and women have.”
CNN’s Manu Raju, Sam Fossum, Clare Foran and Shania Shelton contributed to this report.