Senate Republicans are staring down a make-or-break week as they search for a resolution to Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) military holds in the face of a proposed work-around by Senate Democrats.
The Senate GOP conference will hold a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss Tuberville’s blockade, which has lasted since March and affects more than 370 military promotions.
Republicans are growing increasingly desperate to find a solution — especially against the backdrop of war between Israel and Hamas and tumult in other regions of the world.
“We need to all get in the room and talk it out. I don’t know that there’s going to be any conclusions here,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a big day.”
Tuberville’s GOP colleagues had for months avoided airing their grievances publicly as they hoped to find an offramp that would satisfy him and be amenable to Senate Democrats.
However, that dam broke last week when Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a 30-year member of the Marine Corps, led an effort on the floor that included individual calls for 61 promotions to be advanced. Tuberville objected to each one and has shown no interest in backing off his hold.
The Republicans involved in that display declined to rule out working with Democrats to pass a standing resolution that would allow the chamber to greenlight most of the promotions en bloc through the end of next year.
The floor effort is expected to continue this week, multiple GOP senators told reporters, with the group of members potentially expanding past Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Sullivan, all of whom have military backgrounds.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to get a good way forward and a resolution. That’s what the point of the conference is,” Sullivan said, adding that he reached out to Biden administration officials, including some at the Pentagon, in an attempt to figure out a way forward and told them, “You guys need to be flexible here too. This can’t all be on us.”
Tuberville has shown little willingness to back down from his hold, intended to protest the Pentagon’s abortion policy, even as it has frustrated members on both sides. However, he struck a more optimistic tone Monday, telling reporters that he is hopeful to find a solution.
“Let’s wait ‘til tomorrow and see if any of my colleagues have any solutions,” Tuberville said, adding that he got a number of calls from other Senate Republicans over the weekend offering potential remedies to the situation. “We’ll see if any of them work.”
“We need to get everything out and in the open and talk about it,” Tuberville said.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), along with Tuberville, called the special conference meeting — a rare move to discuss internal matters outside of the usual meetings the party holds over lunch.
Party leaders on Monday underscored the urgency for Tuberville and the conference to figure out how to put this issue to bed sooner rather than later.
“I’m sure we’ll have, as we generally have, a very free-flowing discussion about what the endgame is,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “There’s strong feelings on the subject, and I hope coming out of the conference we have a path forward.”
Thune added that one possible avenue is filing a lawsuit against the Pentagon’s policy, which covers travel expenses for service members who seek abortion care. The downside is the timing as litigation can take months, if not years.
Another is for Republicans to back the resolution, which is authored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), but even those involved in the floor episode last week view it as a break glass in case of emergency possibility they would prefer to avoid.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week that he plans to bring it to the floor but has declined to lay out a timeframe to do so. The resolution would need 60 votes to pass.
Tuberville has called on Schumer to move on the promotions one at a time — a demand the Democratic leader has not bent to, having only confirmed six such promotions individually. To many members, especially Democrats, the ability to move these promotions in a bloc is key as they prefer not to eat up valuable floor time that could be used to fill judicial vacancies and confirm administration nominees.
But how Republicans decide to proceed on the holds very much remains an open question, as does whether the conference will help or hurt matters moving forward.
“I believe we’ll ultimately get it worked out,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), “but I don’t know what to expect.”