By C-SPAN standards, Wednesday night’s Senate proceedings were a telenovela. The Associated Press called it an “extraordinary showdown.” NBC News nearly lapsed into poetry, “In a four-and-a-half-hour floor fight on Wednesday night ….” The knives were drawn, and Senate Republicans were out to get one of their own.
Five lieutenants of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set out to break Senator Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) hold on high-ranking military promotions, which he has maintained since February in response to the Pentagon’s illegal policy to reimburse servicemembers and their families for abortion-related travel. Tuberville has not obstructed votes on six individual nominees to fill top-level vacancies — in fact, he tried to force the Senate to hold the votes — but he has thrown sand in the gears of the Senate’s usual practice of confirming military promotions by unanimous consent, in batches of 50 or more.
Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) attempted to split the difference between holding a vote on every nominee — a time-consuming process — and voting through promotions in batches. They took turns calling for unanimous consent (UC) on promotions for 61 individual nominees.
(Here it’s worth clarifying how “unanimous consent” motions work. A member of the Senate can request unanimous consent on something — such as a bill or, in this case, a nomination — and, if no one says, “I object,” then it passes without a vote. It is designed only to streamline the passage of uncontroversial motions or measures, so it’s easy to block it — all a member has to do is say, “I object.” But it can also shield members from the consequences of an unpopular vote. Ordinary citizens may be shocked to learn that the world’s foremost “deliberative” body can conduct business without any deliberation at all, or even so much as a vote.)
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To resume, these five senators aimed to force Tuberville to object to every single nomination — or they would break through his blockade and finally defeat his months-long hold on promotions.
Tuberville sat in the back of the chamber all evening and objected to every single UC request. One of the five senators would read off a nominee’s credentials and request unanimous consent to grant him or her a promotion. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who was presiding over the chamber, would ask if there were any objections. “Senator from Alabama,” she would recognize Tuberville. “Madam President, I object,” came his deep Southern drawl.
Again and again.
Over and over.
By the end of the evening — which was way past my bedtime — the five senators were livid with Tuberville. “Why are we putting holds on war heroes?” complained Sullivan. “I don’t understand.” Ernst attacked Tuberville’s character, slamming him, “I do not respect men who do not honor their word.” Graham told Tuberville that, if he thought the DOD’s policy was illegal, he should file a lawsuit, saying, “That’s how you handle these things.”
It’s hard to recognize this as the same Graham who is a stalwart pro-life vote. A lawsuit is “how you handle these things” among private parties, or when a court is best positioned to provide oversight. But when one party exercises direct oversight of another — say, as Congress is supposed to do with executive agencies like the Department of Defense — then outsourcing that oversight to a third party is usually not appropriate. When a boss finds a team’s performance unsatisfactory, he withholds raises and promotions; he doesn’t sue them.
As a practical matter, the merits of Graham’s proposed strategy are highly suspect; even if a court recognized that Tuberville had standing to sue — courts recently threw out a lawsuit by members of Congress against Biden’s illegal student loan forgiveness scheme — the matter could take years of costly litigation to resolve.
With such riveting entertainment, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had to be enjoying himself. Here were prominent Republicans doing the Democrats’ work for them, advancing the Biden administration’s radical abortion agenda and ostracizing the one Senate Republican who has fought the Biden administration harder this year than any other member of his conference. The Cheshire Cat’s grin must have been wider than ever.
If only Senate Republicans would show as much zeal in pounding the Biden administration as they did in pounding their own colleague!
Democrats and their media lackeys have labored diligently for months to create the perception that the only way to end the backlog of military promotions is if Tuberville unilaterally drops his hold — if Tuberville surrenders. But that’s simply not true. Here are four ways the backlog could end, and what the outcomes would be:
The Pentagon could end its policy to subsidize abortion-related travel for military personnel, thus acquiescing to Tuberville’s demands. This is the usual way of resolving holds on military promotions. When Democratic senators threatened to hold military promotions in 2020 and 2023, they got their way without having to follow through on their threat. Outcomes: military promotions can proceed, the law is respected, taxpayer dollars are not spent funding abortion travel, unborn babies’ lives are potentially saved, and the Biden administration’s radical abortion push is defeated.
Congress could pass legislation authorizing the DOD to reimburse employees for abortion-related travel. Tuberville has said he would drop his hold if Congress actually voted on the policy. Of course, the Republican-controlled House would never agree to such a proposal, and it might not even pass in the Senate. It would also put Democrats on record in favor of spending taxpayer dollars on abortion, something which is still unpopular. Outcomes: military promotions can proceed, and the law is respected, but taxpayer dollars are still spent to subsidize abortion travel and the killing of unborn babies.
Schumer could dramatically alter the Senate calendar to schedule votes on as many nominees as possible. This strategy would shorten the promotion backlog despite Tuberville’s hold, but it is unpopular among senators because it would force them to work much longer hours. Outcome: senators take the hit for the DOD, allowing it to keep its abortion policy while slowly addressing the promotion backlog.
Tuberville drops his hold without extracting any changes from the DOD. Outcomes: taxpayer dollars are still spent to subsidize abortion travel and the killing of unborn babies, the DOD abortion policy emerges stronger because future pro-lifers will think twice before challenging it, and the net exchange is a major win for the Biden administration and a major blow to pro-lifers, not to mention Tuberville.
The Pentagon has claimed the military promotion backlog poses a threat to national security. They could end Tuberville’s hold tomorrow by ending their abortion policy, but they are unwilling to do so. Either they don’t really believe there is a national security threat, or they believe their abortion policy is more important.
Senate Democrats have claimed the military promotion backlog poses a threat to national security. They could do something to address it, at least in part. They would have to work overtime, but sometimes that’s what national security requires — unless they don’t really believe the threat is serious.
Now Senate Republicans are claiming the military promotion backlog poses a threat to national security. Out of four potential ways to resolve the issue, the only one they’ve shown any serious interest in is the one that gives Democrats a massive win, stabs their colleague in the back, and slams the door in the face of pro-lifers. Why aren’t they putting pressure on the Biden administration?
If these Republicans are really concerned about the national security implications, they could at least write a letter to the DOD saying, “We’re really concerned about the promotion backlog posing a national security risk. As much as you may want to pay for abortion-related travel, your primary objective is protecting national security. So please drop the abortion policy and defend our nation.” Members of Congress do that all the time. Doing so would at least demonstrate a willingness to work the issue from both ends. Instead, they’ve thrown all the pressure on Tuberville.
In July, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said military leaders had a “foundational, sacred obligation” to fund abortion-related travel. Keep in mind the Pentagon initiated the policy to pay for abortions after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision. In other words, when the Supreme Court said, actually there isn’t a constitutional right to abortion, the Pentagon said, we still recognize the sacred right to abortion. But the Pentagon does not say what rights people have. On whose authority did the Pentagon decide paying for abortion travel was a “sacred obligation?” Congress has only spoken to the issue to forbid the use of DOD funds or facilities for abortions. Any senator who wanted to stand on this ground would certainly have plenty of room to find a solid footing.
After nearly nine months, the two parties who have shown no signs of budging so far are the DOD and Senator Tuberville. So far, all the pressure — from Democrats, the media, and now fellow Republicans — has been applied to Tuberville, and he has shown a forehead of diamond. If a senator is motivated by no other principle than supporting the military, then surely it’s time to venture a change in tactics and apply some pressure to the Biden administration.
LifeNews Note: Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand, contributing both news and commentary from a biblical worldview. Originally published by The Washington Stand.
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