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Republicans who have grown angry at Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of military nominees had hoped that their new public pressure campaign would force the Alabama Republican to back down.
But Tuberville indicated Monday: He’s not caving.
In an interview with CNN in his office, the former Auburn football coach compared the GOP push warning of the national security implications to the unsuccessful months-long Democratic effort to force him to cave, a campaign led by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Now, Tuberville said, the effort led by GOP Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is no different, indicating that nothing will change as long as the Pentagon’s abortion policy stays in place.
“Sure,” he told CNN, when asked if he planned to continue to object if the GOP senators renew the floor campaign they launched last week.
“What have I done for the last nine months?” Tuberville said when asked if he had moved off his objection. “I mean, this is no different than what Elizabeth Warren did or Jack Reed or Senator Bennet. I mean, it’s all the same thing.”
Tuberville added: “So that’s not going to get it. And I’m willing to go down there stand with Democrats or Republicans – makes me no difference. You know, you got to fight for what you believe in.”
Last week, the GOP senators – for the first time since Tuberville began the stand – went to the floor and tried to approve each nominee one-on-one, with Sullivan even warning that his GOP colleague was on “a national security suicide mission.”
Tuberville rejected those concerns and told CNN that he called for a special GOP meeting – which will take place Tuesday afternoon – to explain to Republican senators why he has taken that stand and to hear their “advice” on how to resolve the standoff.
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. At the very least, he argues, he wants to negotiate the issue with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“If you want to complain, fine, but do you have an answer?” Tuberville said of his colleagues. “Is there any way you can help work this out?”
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. He has called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve the nominees individually, something the New York Democrat has largely rejected since doing so would eat up floor time.
“Not just the Democrats, but also some Republicans are getting a little tired of this,” Tuberville conceded. “I hate doing this, but it’s the only situation where you can get the attention of the Democrats and the DOD. And there’s some good people that need to be promoted. Heck, we’re up to, I don’t know, above 300 or so and now. I’d love to be able to get, get this done. But again, I’m a pro-life person and you got to believe in and stand for what you believe.”
Republican senators who are calling on Tuberville to relent want him to put a hold on other top Pentagon officials who have a direct say on policy rather than rank-and-file military officers – a proposal the conservative senator has rejected. And they have appealed to him by arguing that the hold is detrimental to national security since some military officials have to perform multiple jobs at the same time.
Tuberville dismissed the national security concerns.
“It’s Secretary Austin’s job to get people ready,” Tuberville said. “I mean, people are still in the game. They might not be making a call somewhere, but they might after I give him a promotion, but all jobs are filled. I mean, it’s you can’t tell me that our military is not functioning the way it should function at a high readiness, especially with what’s going on now.”
When pressed about the situation of the Marine Corps commandant, Eric Smith, who was recently hospitalized after working multiple jobs, Tuberville pointed to the large staffs for top members of the military and argued that they have the ability to delegate.
“You got a job. You can only do so much. And you got to lean on the people underneath you. I coached for a long time – I think 15 or 20 coaches, I mean, you can only do so much. You got to give responsibility. I’m sure that’s what they’re doing,” Tuberville said.
Tuberville has also faced push back from top Senate Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell. He said he and McConnell spoke for “quite a long time” about the holds last week and told him that he wasn’t planning to drop them without a substantive change.
“He says, ‘sure, is there any way we can get this past this point?’” Tuberville recalled. He said he told McConnell: “‘Not until I feel like I’ve done all I can do.’”
Now, Senate Democrats are looking to make a temporary rules change to approve the nominations as a bloc – something that would require the support of at least nine Republicans to succeed.
Tuberville, who has been critical of the proposed rule change, said he expects that proposal to feature prominently in Tuesday’s meeting.
“I can’t control that. And I think that should be a discussion and will be a discussion tomorrow of direction, of can they get, what, nine votes? But I’ve got no power over that. That’s the reason I’m going to go explain the situation. Because that’s coming,” he told CNN. “The resolution to the bypass this, is coming if we can’t work out some kind of compromise.”
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