Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday voted against a Democratic resolution to circumvent Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) hold on 370 stalled military promotions — but he left open the possibility he might vote for it later this Congress.
Tensions within the Senate GOP over Tuberville’s controversial strategy of blocking nonpolitical military nominees to protest the Pentagon’s abortion policy spilled into the open earlier this month when a group of Republican senators confronted the Alabama senator on the floor.
But McConnell still hopes a Republican leadership can work out a deal with Tuberville to avoid the need to pass a resolution to allow Democrats to move hundreds of military nominees in one package.
Senate conservatives, including Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), JD Vance (R-Ohio), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), have warned it would be a mistake for McConnell to support the resolution, which would effectively deny Tuberville the power to hold up most nominees by withholding his consent to waive procedural hurdles.
McConnell said Tuesday he will give fellow Republican senators more time to work out a deal with Tuberville to avoid having to change Senate procedure.
A vote on the Democratic resolution would divide the Senate GOP conference, something McConnell tries to avoid.
But the GOP leader made clear he does not support Tuberville’s tactic of bringing virtually all military promotions to a halt, even though he supports his objective of getting the Pentagon to end its policy of reimbursing the travel costs of service members who obtain abortions.
“As I’ve said for months now, our colleague from Alabama’s response is not, not, the way to reach the desired outcome he and I share. In fact, it’s created a nearly unprecedented situation for the Senate to address,” McConnell said.
Nevertheless, McConnell voted in the Rules Committee with other Republicans against the resolution. The Democratic-controlled Rules Committee then favorably reported the resolution by a party-line 9-7 vote.
McConnell said “productive discussions” about reaching a deal with Tuberville are “ongoing,” and he’s “of the mind that we ought to allow them to continue.”
He said he would oppose the resolution “at this particular moment,” reserving the option of supporting the resolution later this year.
McConnell’s opposition effectively puts a Senate floor vote on the resolution on hold. It needs 60 votes and the support of at least nine Republicans to pass.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he will bring the resolution to the floor “very soon” if Republicans can’t break the impasse with Tuberville.
“If my Republican colleagues can’t convince Sen. Tuberville to relent, I will bring it to the floor shortly for a vote,” Schumer said during the Rules Committee markup.
“We need to get these military nominees confirmed ASAP for the sake of our national security,” he said.
Schumer voted with eight other Democrats in favor of the measure.
Scott, who challenged McConnell for the Senate Republican leader’s job a year ago, last week warned it would be a “mistake” for Senate Republican leaders to back the resolution.
The proposal, introduced by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.), would empower Democrats to move more than 350 stalled military nominees en bloc but would not apply to the eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the 11 commanders of Combatant Commands.
“I support Tommy,” Scott told The Hill last week. “We ought to respect that a person has a different position, and actually I support his position. I think what the Biden administration did with regard to the abortion policy is not in compliance with the law.”
Hawley warned Tuesday that depriving Tuberville of the power to withhold unanimous consent to speed military nominees through the Senate would set a bad precedent.
“I’ll vote against it if and when it comes to the floor just because, putting aside the present the situation, I just don’t think — listen, the right to object to unanimous consent is important,” Hawley argued.
“When you start chipping away at that, the problem I think is that that becomes a precedent,” he warned. “If you’re going to do it for this, why not do it for this, that and the other thing?
“I think it will be very tempting for future majorities to want to do this across the board. If that’s the case, we ought to just rewrite the rules … which I would not support either.”
Members of McConnell’s leadership team, Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who sit on the Rules Committee also opposed the resolution to eviscerate Tuberville’s holds.
“We’re still working on it,” Capito said of a possible deal with Tuberville. “Personally, I have an issue with changing the rules, so, no, I’ll be a no.”
Even so, McConnell warned the backlog of military nominees will grow worse in the weeks ahead, suggesting he might support the Democratic resolution if Republican colleagues can’t work out a resolution with Tuberville.
“Right now, these holds affect 370 active-duty positions. By the end of the year, if this situation is left unaddressed, it will impact 90 percent of our senior-most military commanders,” he said Tuesday.
“Any one of us can talk for days about the growing challenges we’re facing around the world. But none of it is worth a dime if we can’t put experienced commanders in command in a timely manner,” he warned.
Tuberville suggested Tuesday he won’t take it personally if GOP colleagues vote for a resolution to disempower his protest of the Defense Department’s abortion policy.
“You know, vote for your constituents. That’s what I do,” he said.
Asked about McConnell’s potential support for the Democratic resolution, Tuberville said: “You got to do what you think is right.”