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Nov. 4—Valuing decorum, Sen. Dan Sullivan isn't often one to speak out against a fellow Republican senator. But this past week, circumstances forced his hand. The stakes of Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville's asinine nine-month blockade of nearly 400 military nominees were thrown into stark relief when the commandant of the Marine Corps suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Because of Tuberville's action, Gen. Eric Smith's medical emergency left an entire branch of the U.S. military without a confirmed commandant or assistant commandant, meaning Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl briefly had to take over the responsibilities of both positions in addition to those of his own post. As you can imagine, with ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East that have the potential to spin further out of control, this is an even worse time than usual for the U.S. military to have its command structure resembling Swiss cheese.
As a Marine Corps reservist and member of the Armed Services Committee, Sullivan is well aware of the consequences Tuberville's intransigence is wreaking on U.S. military readiness. "All attempts at compromise aren't making progress, and the readiness issues are very real," Sullivan told reporters. By this past week, he and Sen. Joni Ernst had enough.
After expressing disapproval of Tuberville's blockade in past months but expressing optimism a compromise could be reached, Sullivan took to the Senate floor Wednesday night to call the Alabama senator's bluff. Tuberville had previously said he wouldn't block the confirmations of nominees who were put up for confirmation one at a time, so Sullivan and Ernst moved to approve a total of 61 top military leaders Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., one at a time. And each time, Tuberville reneged on his word, objecting to the nominee's confirmation with no explanation and blocking further progress. Sullivan had strong words for the blockade, calling it a "national security suicide mission."
So why is Tuberville taking this unprecedented action? He doesn't approve of a Defense Department policy that provides funds for military service members stationed in states where abortions aren't allowed to travel to states where they are. That's right: Tuberville's objection to abortion is so extreme that he is willing to personally compromise U.S. military readiness and national security in a quixotic attempt to overrule a policy with which he disagrees.
For the record, Sullivan has a similar opinion on abortion to Tuberville. But unlike Tuberville, Alaska's senator understands that such extreme measures are counterproductive and damaging to our country to a degree that makes them undignified and unjustifiable. Sullivan also sees the political ramifications of such obstinacy and stoking of culture-war divides — by stymying progress and being the agent of inaction in Washington, D.C., Tuberville is putting Republicans in the same political position they were in at the 2022 midterms, where a militant anti-abortion stance was primarily responsible for the party snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in its attempt to regain the Senate majority. Political considerations aside, however, Sullivan is right that the most important casualty is the U.S. readiness to deal with global threats and our standing on the world stage. "Xi Jinping is watching this right now, he's loving this," Sullivan said on the Senate floor Wednesday night. "So is (Vladimir) Putin. How dumb can we be, man?"
While any compromise in military readiness over one man's ideology is unacceptable, there is also a broader concern at play. Imagine moving your family across the country to take a job — a promotion — and being stuck in a hotel room for months on end, in a liminal state of uselessness, unable to fulfill your sworn mission. Hundreds of general officers and their families are stuck in that position. This pointless blockade is eroding the morale of these committed warriors who have spent decades protecting our way of life. There is an unwritten compact in America between the military and the citizen government — that they will dedicate their lives to keeping us safe and that in return we'll honor their sacrifices and pay them the respect and courtesy they deserve. They don't, after all, do it for the fantastic pay. Right now, one side is not living up to their end of that bargain.
By late in the week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was circulating plans to circumvent Tuberville's holds by changing Senate rules to temporarily allow for the Senate to approve multiple military members' nominations despite one member's objection. This change would require Republican support. Although Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and their Republican colleagues are rightly wary of giving majority Democrats more power, even temporarily, this is an instance where they must do so, and in turn provide immediate and substantial benefit to our country and its military. We owe Sen. Sullivan our thanks for standing up for what's right.