Senate Republicans erupt in anger over Tuberville’s military freeze

November 3. 2023

A surprising public confrontation this week has made clear that some colleagues of Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Alabama) have hit their limit as hundreds of senior military promotions remain stalled, reports The Washington Post.

The war in Gaza and a serious medical emergency suffered by the Marine Corps’ top officer have forced into the open months of simmering Republican frustration with Tuberville’s expansive hold on President Joe Biden’s military nominees—driving several of his colleagues to publicly denounce the gambit and urge Senate leaders to take immediate action to end the impasse.

Concerns about General Eric Smith’s apparent cardiac arrest on Sunday, October 29, coupled with fast-moving developments in the Middle East, have surfaced repeatedly this week as officials in Washington seek an off-ramp to the bitter political dispute between Tuberville and the Biden Administration that centers on the Pentagon’s travel policy for troops seeking an abortion.

Hundreds of senior military advancements have been stalled as a result, dating back to February.

On Wednesday night, November 1, a remarkable scene unfolded on the Senate floor as several Republicans, including Sens. Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Todd Young (Indiana) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) confronted Tuberville—imploring him to lift his hold for the sake of national security and proposing votes on individual officers whose promotions have been delayed. Tuberville rebuffed them one by one, blocking each proposed nominee as his colleagues’ frustration continued to rise.

The confrontation stretched nearly five hours, with Ernst, a retired Army officer, and Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, rotating to bring forward the bulk of 61 officers presented by name. They called out Tuberville for saying previously that he would relent on nominations that were brought forward for votes individually.

“Xi Jinping is loving this. So is Putin,” Sullivan said at one point, referring to top leaders in China and Russia. “How dumb can we be, man?”

Sullivan said that he has raised repeatedly with Tuberville an alternative plan in which he could put a hold on the nomination of Derek Chollet, a political appointee who has been nominated by Biden to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy, rather than nonpartisan military officers who have no role in the policy in question.

“The key is you put a hold on someone who typically has some kind of control over the issue you’re trying to fix,” Sullivan said. “Why are we putting holds on war heroes?”

Kelly Magsamen, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, said, “The world is watching. This isn’t a game.”

The surprising public confrontation made clear that some of Tuberville’s Republican colleagues have hit their limit, but it remains unclear if there is enough GOP support for a Democratic plan to temporarily change Senate rules to neutralize his blockade. That proposal is set to come to a vote in the next few weeks, and would need nine Republicans to support it.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Tuberville said he has no intent to change course. “We’re not going to start backing up now just because people are starting to start to get cold feet … on my side” of the political aisle.

He held firmly to this position as the evening’s theatrics wore on, declaring “I object” each time as his GOP colleagues, most with military backgrounds themselves, proposed an individual officer for a promotion.

At one point, Graham, his voice rising, said there’s a reason that no other senator had pursued a move like this for so long. “No matter whether you believe it or not, Senator Tuberville, this is doing great damage to our military,” he said. “I don’t say that lightly; I’ve been trying to work with you for nine months.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost