Wee hours U.S. Senate drama: GOP colleagues on the floor battle Tuberville blockade

After a marathon day and late-night vote to avert a Thanksgiving government shutdown,
four U.S. Senate Republicans held the floor until the wee hours
Thursday, urging their Alabama colleague to lift his months-long
objections to hundreds of U.S. military nominations.

Sens. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Todd Young of Indiana, Joni Ernst of
Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked for unanimous consent on
two stalled nominees and spoke on the matter until nearly 4 a.m.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah objected to both on behalf of GOP
Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, speaking at length in defense of the
minority party’s right to block nominations as leverage and about his
own opposition to the Pentagon’s abortion policy that Tuberville is
protesting. Lee’s objections meant the nominations remained stalled.

This was the second time Tuberville’s Republican colleagues brought
nominees to the floor to challenge the Alabama senator’s tactic,
showing how frustration has bubbled to the surface in his own party.

Pentagon officials warn that Tuberville’s freeze on promotions is
disrupting the military’s chain of command. Until Nov. 1, only
Democratic senators had asserted opposition on the floor.

Tuberville has objected to unanimous voice vote approval of military generals and flag officer promotions since early 2023, and now Senate Republicans are on the defense against a Democratic-led resolution
that could allow the chamber to hold roll call votes on the nominees en
masse, potentially saving weeks to months of precious Senate floor
time.

Here’s what the senators had to say early Thursday morning:

Sullivan

Prior to speaking out against Tuberville on the floor this month, the
Alaska senator joined him in collecting cloture petition signatures to
bring top generals, including the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to
the floor for successful votes.

But Sullivan, a colonel in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve, said
Thursday that he and fellow GOP lawmakers who are now protesting
Tuberville’s strategy have “received hundreds of text messages, emails
from military families saying, ‘Thank you for having our back. Somebody
has our back.’”

“So we told them, we’re gonna do that, as we’re moving into
Thanksgiving, my colleagues and I, we’re gonna keep our word to our
military.”

“During the last two weeks, we’ve all worked hard together. Sen.
Tuberville is here, Sen. Lee’s on the floor. We’re all working hard
trying to resolve this. We have ideas … But the backlog grows. Right
now, when the Armed Services (Committee) reports out the next batch of
military (nominees), it will be 450 one-, two-, three- and four-star
generals.”

The latest figures from the Pentagon state 359 nominees are stalled
and the list could grow to between 650 and 850 by year’s end if
Tuberville continues his blockade.

“This is a huge readiness challenge and a huge moral challenge,” Sullivan said.

Tuberville was present at times, but did not speak on the floor during the nearly four-hour period.

Ernst

The Iowa senator said Thursday morning she “led on the effort to overturn this (Biden administration) policy.”

Ernst, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard,
twice attempted but failed to insert language into this year’s annual
defense authorization bill to ban the Pentagon’s recent abortion policy.

“So, again, I am pro-military and pro-life,” she said. “I also do not
relish that I am standing on the floor this (morning) as we try to
bring these nominations forward, but I understand the national security
risks that are out there and the detriment to readiness as we continue
to hold over 450 of the finest men and women that have served their
nation honorably under the flag of our nation and our uniform.”

“So I will go through one by one. I have a binder full of nominees,
and I do hope our colleague from Alabama will allow us to bring them up
one by one for a voice vote.”

Graham

Graham suggested a legal strategy against the Biden administration as
a way for Tuberville to change course and smooth out the military’s
chain of command this year.

“How do you right wrongs? You don’t create another wrong. I want to
right the wrong of having abortion paid for by public taxpayer dollars
from the defense coffers. I think it not only violates the Hyde
Amendment, it’s just bad policy. Count me in, Coach (Tuberville), I’m
with you on that, Mike (Lee). You say it’s illegal. I tend to agree with
you. Go to court.”

“One way you right a wrong in America if you think a law is broken,
you actually bring a lawsuit, and I think we found a way talking to
(attorney) Jay Sekulow to bring a lawsuit challenging the defense policy
of President Biden using taxpayer dollars to pay for transportation
costs from DoD funds to perform abortions,” Graham said.

Sekulow is chief counsel of the Christian-based American Center for
Law and Justice, and specializes in religious liberty and anti-abortion
litigation, according to his website.

The Biden administration and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin maintain the policy is legal, and the Department of Justice in 2022 delivered an opinion concluding the policy does not violate the Hyde Amendment.

The policy, announced in February,
grants service members time off and travel reimbursement when seeking
an abortion in states where it remains unrestricted. The Pentagon policy
was authorized after last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling. Roughly
80,000 active-duty female service members are stationed in states where
legislatures enacted full or partial bans, according to RAND.

Young

The Indiana senator asked to take up and confirm by unanimous consent
two nominees Thursday morning, Capt. Kurtis A. Mole to rise to a rear
admiral of the Navy, and Capt. Thomas J. Dickinson also for a promotion
to rear admiral.

Lee objected both times.

“There are now tens, tens of Americans watching us on C-SPAN 2,
captivated I know by the presentation this (morning),” Young said. “I
think they’re perhaps divided. Some may look upon these proceedings and
think what a functional United States Senate. Every voice must be heard —
every voice must be heard. Every perspective must be delivered. Every
phrase must be uttered.

“Others will say, perhaps it’s dysfunctional. Perhaps there’s an
effort to obfuscate. I don’t know what they’ll conclude. But I do know
that I intend to continue reading through these brave patriots, class of
1995 U.S. Naval Academy graduates, who have been nominated to the grade
of rear admiral lower half, and we are very proud of them,” Young said
at roughly 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

Young was among the U.S. Naval Academy’s 1995 graduating class.

He, Ernst and Sullivan proceeded to read biographies of numerous nominees until just after 3:30 a.m.

Lee

Lee spoke for several minutes twice throughout the morning, saying that Tuberville’s strategy is “not ideal.”

“I want to be clear: The particular strategy deployed here is not
mine. It’s that of a dear friend and colleague who is here with me
tonight. It’s not my strategy. It is his, and it’s because it’s his that
I’m here to defend him in that, notwithstanding the fact that it’s not
the particular tactic that I would have chosen. He’s chosen a tactic
that is legitimate and he has every right to deploy under the rules of
the Senate, rules that go back nearly two-and-a-half centuries in order
to protect the individual rights of each senator,” Lee said.

Lee said the blame is not on Tuberville, but rather on President Joe
Biden and said he “should be watching this because this is compelling
television” and that he should suspend the “godless, lawless abortion
travel policy.”