(WASHINGTON) — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday set votes to circumvent a monthslong blockade on military promotions by Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville.
Schumer’s move would apply to promotions of three key military leaders languishing as a result of Tuberville’s objections, including Joint Chiefs Chairman nominee Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown.
Tuberville has been blocking all military confirmations since February over a Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for out-of-state travel to access abortions.
Roughly 300 military nominees are currently stuck in the Senate, creating what some Pentagon and Biden administration officials — as well as congressional Democrats — have argued is a national security crisis.
Tuberville has been able to gum up the works in the Senate by withholding his consent to move forward with confirming nominations in a bloc, insisting that if Democrats wished to advance nominees, they would need to do them one-by-one. That would break with Senate precedent on how nominations are confirmed.
Schumer has always had the option to sidestep Tuberville by moving nominees individually, but he’s been insistent that doing so would risk politicizing the military and would play into Tuberville’s hand. For the last eight months, it’s been a stalemate.
On Wednesday, Schumer relented on his hard-line stance.
He took the first step to sidestep Tuberville and proceed to final votes on several key military nominees, including Brown, Gen. Randy George, nominated to be Army chief of staff, and Gen. Eric Smith, nominated to be Marine Corps commandant.
“I wish we were not in this position. I wish my Republican colleagues who do care deeply about keeping our military strong were able to prevail on Senator Tuberville to completely change his tactics,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “This is not a sustainable path. Senator Tuberville’s continued abuse of his privilege will continue to disrupt the lives of hundreds of our nation’s finest and most dedicated military officers and their families. And while Democrats didn’t choose this fight, we are ready to put an end to this sooner rather than later.”
In July, Schumer told ABC Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that giving in to Tuberville’s tactics could lead other senators to use nominees as bargaining chips. The burden to dissuade Tuberville was on Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Thune, he said.
“We cannot let the burden be falsely on our shoulders,” Schumer told Scott. “If we start doing this, they’ll do it for everything. Someone could get up and say until affirmative action is abolished I’m holding up everybody.”
Schumer’s decision Wednesday to move forward with confirming three individual nominees comes just one day after Tuberville announced his intention, during a closed-door Republican lunch, to escalate his tactics.
Tuberville had planned on using a most-unusual procedural technique which would have essentially allowed him to get around his own objection to force a vote on a single military nominee on the Senate floor.
The procedural move would have been in an effort to show the tools Schumer has at his disposal to move individual nominees, something Tuberville has been arguing for months that Schumer ought to do.
In floor remarks, Schumer said the proposed move from Tuberville demonstrates his becoming “more and more desperate to get out of the box he has put himself in.”
“He is desperate to shift the responsibility on to others. But I’ve made it clear that we will not allow anyone to shift this on to Democrats,” Schumer said. “The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the senior senator form Alabama.”
Though the step Schumer took Wednesday all but assures that these top-brass officials are able to be confirmed, it does little to overcome Tuberville’s larger blockade that is still holding up hundreds of nominees.
If Schumer wished to confirm all of the nominees that are waiting on the Senate floor one-by-one, as he plans to do with these top-tier officials, a recent memo from the Congressional Research service found it could take as many as 89 8-hour workdays, during a time when Congress must manage a number of other priorities, including funding the government before Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown.
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