WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday moved forward with confirming three senior military nominees who were blocked by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) amid his monthslong hold on more than 300 military nominations, a small break in the logjam that has frustrated senior Pentagon officials and lawmakers in both parties.
The three officials set to be confirmed are Gen. Eric Smith for Marine Corps commandant, Randy George for chief of staff of the Army, and C.Q. Brown for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hundreds of other lower-ranking military officials are still waiting for Senate approval as Tuberville singlehandedly blocks them over his objections to the Pentagon’s policy on travel for abortion care.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Schumer said it’s long past time that these particular military promotions were approved.
“The Senate will overwhelmingly vote to overcome Sen. Tuberville’s blockade ... and these three honorable men will finally be able to assume their positions and the abortion policy that Sen. Tuberville abhors will remain in place,” he said.
“Sen. Tuberville will have accomplished nothing,” he added.
The Senate majority leader’s decision to set up votes on individual nominees, which Tuberville said he wouldn’t object to, is a reversal. Previously, Democrats insisted that Tuberville must drop his hold on all promotions and nominations since holding votes on each would eat up months of valuable floor time.
In essence, Schumer blinked.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Republicans must convince Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) to stop holding up military nominations.
The New York Democrat has said since February, when Tuberville first began holding up military nominees, that the only way out of the impasse is for GOP leaders to get their colleague to stand down.
“The bottom line is, it’s up to the Republican leadership. This is a problem that they have in their caucus, that they have with the country,” Schumer said in July. “They are risking our security and it’s up to them to fix it.”
Military nominees are usually confirmed quickly and unanimously in blocks of nominations. To take them up one at a time wouldn’t just burn through Senate floor time, it would set a precedent that senators in both parties don’t want: allowing a single member to hold up confirmations of vital military nominees in exchange for other policy concessions.
Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made it clear that he’s not happy with what Tuberville is doing, though he hasn’t made him stop.
“I think holding these non-policymaking, career military [nominees] … is a mistake,” McConnell told reporters last week.
What changed on Wednesday was Tuberville and other rank-and-file GOP senators threatening to force a floor vote on Smith’s nomination to be Marine Corps commandant. The move was unusual since leadership typically decides what gets a vote on the Senate floor. Republican and Democratic senators worried about the precedent those GOP senators would set if they had succeeded in bypassing leadership, and the consequences such a move could have in the future. The Republican senators ultimately didn’t go through with it after Schumer set up the votes.
“We forced them today with a cloture petition that would have commandeered the floor from [Schumer]. We would have taken over the floor and he didn’t want that,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told reporters on Wednesday.
Tuberville didn’t ultimately get what he wanted on Wednesday, which is for the Pentagon to drop its policy of paid travel for abortion care for service members and their families, which the military put in place after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year. But the Alabama Republican still holds leverage over hundreds of other noncontroversial military nominations still hanging out there.
It’s unclear how or when the Senate will approve those nominees, but Democrats are hoping that pressure will continue to build on Tuberville. On Wednesday, Schumer raised the possibility of changing the Senate rules if the Republican lawmaker continues to block military nominations.
“Sen. Tuberville’s unprecedented disrespect of the men and women who lead our military has, unsurprisingly, caused many of our colleagues to discuss the ways to change the way we process military nominations,” he said. “They recognize that the Senate process is being abused and that Sen. Tuberville’s reckless actions are harming hundreds of military families.”
Republicans said they were glad to see any measure of progress even if the path forward for hundreds of others remains uncertain. Tuberville’s blockade has left families of nominees stuck in limbo, waiting to receive a raise, move to a new location, enroll their children in new schools or find new jobs for their spouses.
“I hope this breaks the logjam somehow. It’s a positive step,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said Wednesday.