U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) speaks during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee at Dirksen Senate Office Building.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The battle over Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of U.S. military promotions over a Pentagon abortion policy inched forward Wednesday after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought three top nominees to the floor, including President Joe Biden’s pick for the U.S. Marines’ second-in-command after its top general suffered a medical emergency.
Schumer filed cloture Tuesday night on Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, nominee for assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, after Tuberville’s office publicized collecting signatures earlier that day to force a vote on the Corps’ number two. A cloture vote is a procedural step in the Senate that moves the chamber toward a vote.
“His appointment has become urgent because this weekend, the Commandant of the Marines, General Eric Smith, was unexpectedly hospitalized after a serious medical emergency,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
“Now, normally Lt. General Mahoney would have been able to immediately step in to temporarily serve as Commandant, but unfortunately because of the blanket holds of just one senator — Senator Tuberville — that cannot happen,” continued Schumer, a New York Democrat.
Schumer also filed cloture on the two remaining vacancies on the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Admiral Lisa M. Franchetti for appointment as Chief of Naval Operations and Gen. David W. Allvin for the position of Chief of Staff to the Air Force.
The votes could happen as soon as this week.
Months of delay
The back-and-forth over advancing military promotions is set against a months-long backdrop of the Alabama Republican blocking the approval of hundreds of nominees from the time-saving unanimous consent process in which all senators routinely say yes to large blocs of appointees at once.
Tuberville has been the lone senator stopping that process since February, and the list of nominees has grown to 378, according to the Pentagon’s latest total Friday.
Tuberville maintains that a recent Department of Defense policy on reproductive care is illegal. The policy grants leave and travel allowances to service members who must travel to U.S. locations where abortion remains legal.
A statement from Tuberville’s office Wednesday morning said Schumer “has now caved” by bringing more individual nominees to the floor for the second time since September.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican, has also been circulating a petition to compel individual votes on Franchetti and Allvin. Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, confirmed to States Newsroom Thursday that he signed on.
“Schumer could have begun the process of confirming these nominees months ago, but he didn’t want to. It took Senator Sullivan’s cloture petition for him to start doing his job of confirming these high-level nominees,” Sullivan’s press secretary Ben Dietderich wrote in an email to States Newsroom Tuesday.
Schumer’s office did not immediately respond Tuesday or Wednesday to media inquiries about bringing the nominees to the floor.
But Wednesday on the floor he continued to criticize Tuberville’s strategy.
“Every day that Senator Tuberville continues his blanket holds, our military preparedness is degraded. Our military families — most of whom who have served decades in the armed forces — suffer. Our military appointments risk being further ensnared in partisan politics,” he said.
Another path for military nominations
Sen. Jack Reed, chair of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, also has jumpstarted an attempt to bypass Tuberville’s unmoving blockade.
The Rhode Island Democrat introduced a resolution Tuesday that would allow multiple nominations to receive votes en bloc rather than having to use hours of floor time on each of the nearly 400 nominees.
The time factor is an argument that Democrats have pointed to when criticizing Tuberville’s holds.
Schumer says Reed’s proposal, which has been sent to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, will allow the chamber to “quickly confirm” the appointments.
The change would last for the duration of the 118th Congress.
Tuberville slammed the idea as a way to weaken the Senate’s minority.
A statement from his office Monday called Reed’s resolution a “radical proposal.”
“If Democrats start to change precedents and rules now, where will they stop?” the statement read.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent representing Arizona, supports the idea and helped Reed craft the proposal, according to her office.
“This is not a Senate rules change — this is the introduction of a current Senate tool called a ‘Standing Order Resolution,’ which requires cloture and 60-vote support to allow a certain amount of military promotions to move en bloc,” Sinema’s press secretary Pablo A. Sierra-Carmona wrote in an email to States Newsroom.
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