Pentagon slams Tuberville for setting ‘dangerous precedent’ by holding up nominations

The Pentagon on Tuesday slammed Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) for setting a "dangerous precedent" by holding up more than 200 general and flag officer nominations over the Defense Department's new abortion policy.

"Without these leaders in place, these holes severely limit the department's ability to ensure the right person is in place at the right time, and to ensure a strategic readiness and operational success," said Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh at a Tuesday briefing.

Singh said the holdup was placing Washington's ability to counter Russia and China at risk.

"These holds set a dangerous precedent and puts our military readiness at risk at a time when our military is expected to defend the nation and meet the acute threat of Russia and address the pacing challenge of the PRC," she continued, referring to the People's Republic of China.

More Tommy Tuberville coverage from The Hill

Tuberville has been blocking the nominees from confirmation in the Senate since March over the Pentagon's policy, which provides paid time off and reimburses travel costs for servicemembers who travel for an abortion.

Last week, the White House also blasted the holdup, following rebukes from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and seven former Pentagon chiefs who have also warned about the precedent of blocking the nomination of important military officers.

The blockade could also end up impacting nominees for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the replacement for chairman and Gen. Mark Milley later this year.

President Biden this week said Tuberville's block on the nominees was "bizarre," prompting a response from the senator.

"What is actually bizarre is Joe Biden's obsession with making taxpayers pay for abortion without Congress ever taking a vote," Tuberville tweeted. "It’s bizarre and it’s wrong."

Tuberville says the policy, enacted last year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, is a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds to pay for abortion services.

The Alabama senator is refusing to back down and has reportedly rejected off-ramps from fellow Republican colleagues, saying he will only support an end to the blockade if the Pentagon drops the policy or if the policy is codified in law.

GOP fears Trump legal woes will boomerang on them 

Senate Republicans are worried former President Trump’s legal troubles will create a major headwind for GOP candidates in 2024.  

They say the battle between the Justice Department and Trump, who pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he violated the Espionage Act and obstructed justice with his handling of classified documents, will become a primary litmus test — just as his unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen became a prominent point of debate in last year’s GOP primaries.  

They also worry Trump’s dominance of the media spotlight will turn off swing voters — especially suburban women — and hurt their chances of taking back the Senate or protecting their small House majority.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who has endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) for president, told reporters on Tuesday there’s “no question” the “serious” allegations against Trump will hurt the GOP if he is the nominee.  

Rounds said voters will ultimately decide whether the charges disqualify Trump from holding office, but he predicted they will create a headwind.

“Voters are going to make that determination, but most certainly for a lot of us as you look at that, it’s not going to help,” he said. “This is not good for our party, clearly not good for our party.”

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) also warned Republicans will pay the price if Trump and his various legal battles dominate the political debate next year. 

“I think if you look at the record, in ’18, ’20, and ’22, when he’s the issue, we lose,” Thune said, referring to Republicans’ loss of the House in the 2018 midterm election, their loss of the White House and Senate in the 2020 election and Senate Republicans’ failure to take back the upper chamber in 2022.  

“I would rather have the issue be Biden and his policies. I think the way that you do that is you have a different nominee,” said Thune, who has also endorsed Scott for president.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) speaks during the weekly press conference following the Republican luncheon at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 13, 2023.

Asked whether he was worried the indictment could drag down the party in 2024, Thune replied: “I’m worried obviously about the Senate races.” 

“There’s no question the political environment affects that, and the top of the ticket is part of the political environment,” he said.  

Thune acknowledged the legal battle could help Trump in a primary, but he argued it would hurt the GOP at large in a general election.

“Everybody says, ‘Well, it gives him a political bump,’ and all that, and that may be true with the political base but, again, the people who decide national elections are the middle of the electorate. It’s the soccer moms, it’s the suburban voters, it’s younger voters, and I just think we’ve got a candidate who can appeal to those,” he said.  

“A lot of the drama and the chaos that seems to be happening with an ongoing basis [with Trump] makes it harder to win those types of voters,” Thune observed.

More Senate coverage from The Hill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters after last year’s disappointing midterm election that the “chaos” and “negativity” surrounding Trump hurt Senate GOP candidates, though he didn’t mention Trump by name.

On Tuesday, however, McConnell declined to go anywhere near Trump’s legal troubles when asked whether he would support the former president if he wins the party’s nomination. 

“I’m just simply not going to comment on the candidates,” he said when asked about supporting Trump, noting the Republican presidential primary has been playing out for the past six months and will last for another year. 

Asked about the indictment itself and whether Trump did anything wrong, McConnell replied: “I’m not going to start commenting on the various candidates we have running for president. There are a lot of them; it’s going to be interesting to watch.” 

McConnell’s caution reflects in part the fact many GOP senators and Senate Republican candidates remain ardent fans of the former president.  

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) missed an important vote Tuesday on Biden’s nominee to serve as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; he was headed to Trump’s New Jersey golf club to attend a Trump rally.

Also on Tuesday, first-term Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) announced he would put a hold on Biden’s nominees to the Justice Department to protest the federal prosecution of Trump.  

“If Merrick Garland wants to use these officials to harass Joe Biden’s political opponents, we will grind his department to a halt,” Vance said in a statement. 

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio)

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) asks questions during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 to discuss the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in March.

Vance’s hold will require Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to go through the time-consuming process of scheduling votes on individual nominees.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told reporters Tuesday that the Justice Department’s indictment will have a “galvanizing effect” on Republican voters and predicted Trump, who has a big lead in national and key primary state polls, will be the party’s nominee.  

“I think voters see [the indictment] for what it is. It is politically motivated, clearly,” he said.

He noted that Trump has already faced two impeachment trials and multiple accusations over the years, including his recent indictment on 34 felony charges by the Manhattan district attorney and a jury’s decision to award author E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages after finding the former president liable for sexual abuse and defamation.  

“There’s always a lot of a lot around President Trump,” he said.  

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He disagreed with Senate Republican colleagues who blame Trump for the failure to win back the majority last year.  

“If Senate Republicans want to blame somebody for that, we should go get a mirror,” he said.

A June 7-10 CBS/YouGov poll of 2,480 adults showed Trump leading his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by 38 percentage points. The survey recontacted 1,798 respondents after the federal indictment was unsealed. 

Tuberville finds himself at center of storm on abortion, white nationalism

Editor’s note: Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) says she supports Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) hold on military promotions. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information. 

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has placed himself at the center of a growing storm touching on abortion, the military and white nationalism, irritating colleagues and turning himself into a more high-profile political target.

The former Auburn University football coach turned first-term Alabama senator has annoyed fellow Republicans with a hold on military promotions, earning rare criticism from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who loathes to publicly criticize a fellow GOP senator.

He then made his troubles worse by criticizing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a local NPR interview for wanting to get “the white extremists, the white nationalists” out of the military. Pressed on those remarks, Tuberville said he’d call white nationalists “Americans.” 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pounced on those comments from Tuberville, one of former President Trump’s most vocal advocates in the Senate, labeling them “revolting.”

“Does Sen. Tuberville honestly believe that our military is stronger with white nationalists in its ranks?” Schumer said. “I cannot believe this needs to be said, but white nationalism has no place in our armed forces and no place in any corner of American society, period, full stop, end of story.”

Abortion politics

Tuberville’s battle with the military is about the subject of abortion, an issue that has repeatedly helped Democrats in elections and hurt Republicans since the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Tuberville has effectively blocked promotions for roughly 200 senior military officials in key regions over the Pentagon’s abortion policy, which allows service members to take leave and provides travel reimbursements for those who need to travel to get an abortion. That is a more common need since the end of Roe.

Tuberville has said he would lift the holds in exchange for a vote on legislation to change the Pentagon policy, but Democratic senators have been unwilling to give in on that point. Tuberville said he would lift the holds even if his bill did not pass — a likelihood since it would need 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles.

“I find the senator’s approach to the men and women who are seeking advancement in our military to really be painfully wrong,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, when asked whether Democrats would be amenable to voting to end the Pentagon abortion policy.

McConnell has made it clear he opposes Tuberville’s holds.

“No, I don’t support putting a hold on military nominations,” McConnell told reporters last week in response to a question about Tuberville’s blockade. “I don’t support that. But as to why, you’ll have to ask Sen. Tuberville.”

The military promotions in question include those in NATO and in the Indo-Pacific and would usually be passed unanimously all together. Austin argued in a letter last week the hold is also detrimental to military families and imposes “needless additional stress” on them.

Wrong direction

At the heart of Tuberville’s arguments on abortion and in the white nationalism remarks is that the military is moving in the wrong direction, specifically on recruiting and readiness.

He is quick to note the Army missed its recruiting goal in 2022 by 25 percent and attributes that to the leftward lurch in recent years and an attempt to freeze out Trump backers. 

In seeking to clean up his remarks about white nationalism to the NPR station, Tuberville’s office said he was being skeptical of the notion that white nationalists were in the military, not that they should be in the military.

Later, however, in a separate interview with NPR, Tuberville said he considered someone who was a white nationalist to be a “Trump Republican” and a “MAGA person.”

Though some Republicans have opposed Tuberville’s holds, they are largely brushing off the Democratic criticisms of his remarks about white nationalism.

One Senate Republican told The Hill the one-two punch isn’t creating internal consternation for the GOP conference, adding the remarks last week are viewed as an “isolated event” and downplayed it as “one member acting on his own.” 

At the same time, the Senate Republican said Tuberville might want to rethink his strategy.

“If you use holds strategically and you focus on an agency, there’s no reason why he can’t pick and choose,” the Senate Republican said. “I think he’d be wise to just go back and just identify the agency that Austin’s inaction is going to end up having a problem with and just create a problem for that agency versus a [Department of Defense]-wide issue. That’s going to be hard to hold up over time.” 

“That really should have been the way he went into it to begin with,” the Senate GOP member added.


Tuberville, despite the controversies, is well-liked by his conference. Commonly referred to around the Capitol as “coach,” Tuberville is seen frequently back-slapping colleagues before and after votes. Many Republicans see him as taking action with the holds that are well within his senatorial powers, regardless of whether they agree with him. 

“[Tuberville’s] serious about this. He’s very serious. It’s not just some show that’s going on,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a fellow member of the Armed Services Committee who supports his hold though she has previously said it isn't necessarily the tactic she'd use.

His long-standing hold even has support in some corners of GOP leadership. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a McConnell ally, told reporters earlier this week the opposition is warranted. 

“One of the biggest problems around here is people aren’t held accountable when they overstep their authority,” Cornyn said, referring to the Pentagon. “I regret that it’s necessary, but I think it is.”

For now, how to end Tuberville’s hold remains very much in question to members of both parties as the senator said earlier this week “nothing” will push him to compromise on the situation, short of the Pentagon reversing its policy.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Hill Tuberville should end his hold and instead seek an amendment vote on the issue via the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

However, Tuberville told reporters earlier this week he doesn’t want to hold the NDAA up with this ongoing push and added he wasn’t interested in a handshake deal with the Biden administration and Democratic leaders on the matter.

“They did that with [Sen. Joe Manchin], and they lied to him,” Tuberville said, pointing to Manchin’s attempt to get permitting reform attached to last year’s NDAA. 

The abortion issue is also creating political headaches back home for Tuberville as the Biden administration may nix plans for the U.S. Space Command’s headquarters to move from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Huntsville, Ala. Multiple reports indicate the issue, headlined by the state’s restrictive law that bans nearly abortions, is at the heart of the potential decision.

“It’s not something that’s gone over super well [in the state],” one Alabama GOP source told The Hill, noting that is especially the case in Huntsville, where 10,000 jobs could be impacted. 

Other Senate Republicans believe that if Democrats accede to Tuberville’s request for a vote on the Pentagon policy to end the hold, it’s not out of the question that another GOP member could fill his void and announce a blockade of their own. 

“I’m not sure there aren’t other Republicans who would be more than happy to step in, particularly from strong pro-life places and say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m putting a hold on all these rascals until they change this policy,’” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.  

As of this week, Tuberville told The Hill he has yet to hear from anyone on the other side of the aisle about reaching a resolution. Instead, Democrats this week launched another effort to advance the horde of military promotions via unanimous request. 

“I will come to the floor as many times as possible,” Tuberville said on the floor. “To this point, I hope I’ve been clear. I’ve laid out the conditions for my holds and when I will drop my holds. These conditions have not been met, and I will not drop this hold until they are met.”