Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., once again stymied his Democrat colleagues from approving nearly 200 promotions for military generals and flag officers—while also picking up an ally in his ongoing dispute with the Pentagon over its new abortion policy.
The latest standoff took place Wednesday evening when Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., asked for unanimous consent to move forward with the nominations. As he has done repeatedly, Tuberville objected. This time, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., stood by his colleague.
“The policy is immoral, taking Department of Defense abortions from less than 20 per year to over 4,000 abortions annually,” Marshall said. “It’s beyond me why the White House wants to pick this fight. The policy is illegal. It forces taxpayers to subsidize abortion in violation of federal law.”
Marshall’s estimate comes from a Rand Corp. study analyzing the Pentagon’s new abortion policy, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin implemented in February by executive fiat months after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The new policy allows U.S. servicemembers and their family to obtain taxpayer-funded abortions.
Tuberville warned Austin in October to steer clear of a divisive abortion agenda at the Pentagon or face the prospect that military nominations wouldn’t receive a Senate vote. Yet the defense secretary did so anyway. Austin is now engaged in an all-out campaign, backed by seven of his predecessors, to pressure Tuberville to drop the hold.
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Tuberville took aim at Austin for his refusal to abandon the abortion policy.
“Secretary Austin blew up 40 years of tradition and agreement,” Tuberville said. “There was no debate in the Senate. There was no debate in the House. And here’s why: They didn’t have the votes. This administration couldn’t change abortion laws here in the Senate or the House, so they wrote a memo.”
Tuberville added, “Secretary Austin is the most political secretary of defense we’ve ever seen.”
In just the past week, Democrats have enlisted seven former defense secretaries—William Perry, William Cohen, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, and Mark Esper—in a failed attempt to persuade Tuberville.
Tuberville has said repeatedly he won’t back down until the Pentagon reverses course. He showed no signs of relenting Wednesday.
“The Biden administration wants to mobilize our military against the weakest and the most defenseless: the unborn. I believe that is wrong. It is immoral,” Tuberville said. “These letters are part of a coordinated effort by the Democrats to use the authority and prestige of the secretary of defense to distract from the facts.”
Although only a handful of his Republican colleagues have joined Tuberville on Senate floor, many more have voiced their support for his effort. In addition, conservative leaders representing millions of pro-life Americans have signaled they have his back. CatholicVote organized the March letter signed by 23 pro-life leaders, including Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts and Heritage Action Executive Director Jessica Anderson.
Austin announced Feb. 16 that the Defense Department would provide three weeks of paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for military personnel and dependents who are seeking an abortion. The defense secretary attempted to justify the move by claiming it would protect “readiness of the force.”
Austin is now claiming Tuberville’s hold on the nearly 200 promotions is hurting military readiness—a charge former military officers firmly reject.
“This indefinite hold harms America’s national security and hinders the Pentagon’s normal operations,” Austin said in a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “The United States military relies on the deep experience and strategic expertise of our senior military leaders.”
But two former miliary officers—retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council and retired Lt. Col. James J. Carafano of The Heritage Foundation—said that’s not the case.
In an appearance on “Washington Watch,” FRC President Tony Perkins asked Boykin if Tuberville’s effort was endangering the U.S. military. Boykin responded, “No, it is not.”
“In the military,” Boykin added, “you don’t replace somebody until you have a replacement for them, which means the person holding that slot stays there until he has a replacement. This whole thing is more propaganda than anything else.”
Carafano, vice president of Heritage’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, sent a letter to Tuberville stating, “America’s military readiness is of vital importance and one The Heritage Foundation takes seriously. Each year, we publish an Index of U.S. Military Strength to gauge the U.S. military’s ability to perform its missions. This year, for the first time, we assess the military as weak and at growing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests. While the reasons for this are many, your holds are not among them.”
The letter was signed by two other Heritage vice presidents: John Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government, and Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Marshall, an OB/GYN from Kansas who delivered more than 5,000 babies, also dismissed the Pentagon’s readiness argument.
“The Biden administration and Senate Democrats claim this is harming our military readiness,” Marshall said. “With policies like this, they continue to destroy recruiting. If readiness was truly a concern of theirs, they wouldn’t have discharged 8,000 troops for choosing not to take the COVID vaccine—a vaccine with minimal benefits to an otherwise healthy young population.”
With the 100-member Senate so narrowly divided, and several lawmakers absent for health reasons, Democrats would prefer to approve the military appointments and promotions as a group. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., could bring each nominee to the floor individually, but doing so would be a laborious process for senators who typically prefer a short workweek.
Instead, Schumer and his colleagues have resorted to personal attacks on Tuberville—and his home state.
Bennet spent 50 minutes on the Senate floor Wednesday night, rambling about everything from LASIK eye surgery and bunions to America’s Founders and originalism. He also acknowledged the significance of Tuberville’s blockade, highlighting the high stakes of the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
“This is the fourth time that I’ve been on this floor asking us to do what Senates have done for 230 years,” Bennet said. “Never in the history of the United States of America—literally never in the history of the United States of America—has there been a senator who put a blanket hold on every single flag officer at the Department of Defense.”
Bennet concluded his remarks with an attack on former President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate Space Command headquarters from his state of Colorado to Tuberville’s Alabama, revealing that parochial interests might also be a factor.