Senate Democrats on Tuesday advanced plans to force a floor vote on hundreds of senior military promotions, potentially ending a nine-month nominations blockade that has upended planned leadership changes across the Department of Defense.
But the Senate Rules Committee vote did not provide a clear answer as to whether the plans will get enough Republican support to succeed later this month.
The proposal, which passed by a 9-8 party-line vote, would allow the chamber to vote on more than 350 senior military nominations in a single vote, a rules change that Democratic senators say is needed given the blanket hold on fast consideration of the promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.
Tuberville has blocked the normally routine moves since late February because of his objections to the Defense Department’s abortion access policy. Democrats accused him of causing a leadership crisis within the military.
“We are here today because one of our colleagues has used the Senate rules to hold the entire military chain of command hostage. That is wrong,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, said before Tuesday’s vote.
“This massive hold is hurting our military readiness and our national security. It’s hurting the morale of our troops and it’s causing major disruptions in the lives of our military families, who have already sacrificed so much.”
Earlier on Tuesday, a group of 27 Republican senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin demanding he rescind the abortion access policy, which provides leave and travel stipends for troops looking to receive abortion services but forced to travel across state lines because of local laws banning the procedure.
Republican members of the rules committee criticized the proposed change as overkill, even if they don’t all agree with Tuberville’s tactics.
“I’m committed to working with my colleagues to find a path forward, but I will not support this effort that undermines the long-standing tradition of the Senate,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. and ranking member on the rules committee.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is committed to bringing the rule change before the full chamber “shortly.” But with a holiday break scheduled to begin this weekend, that likely will not occur until sometime after Thanksgiving.
When that vote happens, Democrats will need to get support from at least nine Senate Republicans to advance the plan. Last week, five Republicans took to the chamber floor to challenge Tuberville’s holds, but it is not clear how many of those will vote for the rules change.
Meanwhile, Tuberville has insisted he will drop his holds only if the Defense Department rescinds the abortion access policy. He has also threatened to attack Republicans who support a rules change as supporting abortion.
Senate Democratic leaders can and have brought up some promotions for individual votes, but they have argued doing so for the more than 350 pending nominations would take months of floor time.
The resolution adopted by the committee Tuesday would allow all but the most senior officers to be considered in a single, massive vote. It would also allow similar moves for the duration of this session of Congress if Tuberville maintains his holds.
Military families packed the hearing room for Tuesday’s vote. In a statement, Kathy Roth-Douquet, co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Families, said the ongoing nominations saga “not only robs the military of valuable talent, but it weakens our nation’s defenses.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.