Republican senators are laying the groundwork to vote before Christmas on a Democratic-drafted resolution to circumvent the blockade that Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R) has placed in front of more than 400 military nominees.
Republican frustrations with Tuberville and his ally, Senate Steering Committee Chairman Mike Lee (R-Utah), spilled into public view again early Thursday morning in yet another sign of tension between pro-defense GOP lawmakers and conservative populists.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a prominent Senate defense hawk, said that he will be ready to vote for a resolution to change Senate procedure and allow Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to bring hundreds of military promotions to the floor to be confirmed en bloc if Tuberville doesn’t cut a deal to break the backlog by Christmas.
“I promise you this. This will be the last holiday this happens,” Graham told Tuberville on the Senate floor, referring to the uncertainty faced by the group of military officers heading into Thanksgiving.
“If it takes me to vote to break loose these folks, I will,” Graham declared.
A Senate Republican aide said that support within the GOP conference now appears to be shifting toward changing Senate procedure if the standoff with Tuberville threatens to drag into 2024.
John Ullyot, a Republican strategist and former National Security Council spokesman during the Trump administration, said “Republicans, especially Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, are feeling enormous pressure from their constituents on approving military promotions.”
“This is something that they’re hearing about from their constituents and there is a sense of urgency … to break this logjam,” he said.
But Ullyot acknowledged it’s a very tough decision because holding up military nominees is one of the few points of effective leverage lawmakers have over policymakers at the Department of Defense and White House, especially when they are in the minority.
“It’s an issue of whether you want to take away one of the only tools that the Senate has to exert influence or exert pressure over the executive branch,” he said. “Just like filibuster reform, you’re for [changing procedural rules] when you’re in the majority and against it when you’re in the minority.”
Ullyot, who served as a Republican aide on the Senate Armed Services Committee during the Bush administration, said that then-Armed Services panel Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) pushed then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace to retire in 2007, during the Iraq war, because of a partisan policy dispute over openly gay soldiers serving in the military.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voted against the proposed standing order resolution to allow Democrats to move hundreds of nonpolitical military nominees in a single package when it came up for consideration in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.
But the GOP leader put a time stamp on his opposition, signaling he could change his mind if Tuberville doesn’t agree to a deal.
He said Tuberville’s blockade of nominees “is not the way to reach the desired outcome” of getting the Pentagon’s abortion policy changed, and he lamented “a nearly unprecedented situation for the Senate to address.”
He expressed appreciation for the work Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and other colleagues put into drafting the resolution but concluded he was inclined to let the negotiations with Tuberville play out a while longer.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), who led an effort to pressure Tuberville to agree to waive procedural hurdles for a group of nominees early Thursday, warned that the backlog is beginning to severely impact U.S. military readiness.
And he warned the Senate standoff could leave the armed services without a whole generation of leaders.
“The backlog grows. Right now, when the Armed Services [Committee] report out the next batch of military officers, it will be 450 — one, two, three and four-star generals,” Sullivan argued on the Senate floor before attempting to get Tuberville to agree to voice votes on a few of the stalled nominees.
“This is a huge readiness challenge and huge morale challenge while our troops are literally in combat, literally under fire,” he warned.
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) joined Sullivan and Graham after midnight Thursday in what they called a “joint operation” to put pressure on Tuberville, speaking on the floor until nearly 4 a.m. to highlight the biographies of the stranded nominee.
Ernst bristled when Lee used more than an hour of floor time to rebut requests to approve the nominees.
She declared that Lee and Tuberville “don’t want these biographies read because we are putting the human element out there and showing the United States of America the valiant service of these men and women.”
It was the second time in two weeks that a group of Republicans took to the floor to publicly challenge Tuberville over his holds. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joined the group on Nov. 1.
Schumer later called the Republican-on-Republican floor fight over nominees “sort of unprecedented.”
A GOP senator who requested anonymity to comment on internal discussions said Sullivan has signaled to colleagues that he would likely vote for the standing order resolution to move the nominees in a large group if a deal can’t be reached with Tuberville.
Sullivan declined to tell The Hill how much longer he will continue to negotiate with the Alabama senator.
“We’re still working to try to get a Republican resolution,” he said, noting that the number of stalled nominees will soon reach 450 officers. “That’s a lot.”
Asked how much longer he would give the talks, he said “that’s not up to me.”
Schumer appeared confident this week he would eventually have the votes to pass the resolution — or at least come close.
“Patience is really wearing thin on the Republican side. They are sitting down with Tuberville trying to propose to him ways to get this done without a vote on our resolution, but if they can’t come to that agreement, we will soon put that resolution on the floor,” he said.
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Author: Alexander Bolton