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Republican's blockade of military promotions ends as Pentagon's abortion travel policy continues

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin walks to welcome Indian Minister Of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar during an enhanced honor cordon at the Pentagon on September 26, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin walks to welcome Indian Minister Of External Affairs Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar during an enhanced honor cordon at the Pentagon on September 26, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

A monthslong blockade of President Joe Biden's military appointments has come to an end as the U.S. senator who led the effort remains committed to continuing holds on the most high-ranking promotions unless the Biden administration agrees to abandon its effort to fund abortion travel across state lines for service members. 

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., ended his blockade on military promotions Tuesday, nine months after he began placing a hold on such nominations as a result of the Pentagon's policy allowing female service members to receive "travel and transportation allowances" to travel out-of-state to obtain an abortion if they live in a state where the procedure is prohibited. 

Tommy Tuberville speaks to supporters in Alabama after winning his race for U.S. Senate on Nov. 3, 2020.
Tommy Tuberville speaks to supporters in Alabama after winning his race for U.S. Senate on Nov. 3, 2020. | YouTube/WVTM

In a statement Wednesday, Tuberville's office said that he narrowed the holds to four-star generals and released the others for promotion following "threats" from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

"Coach Tuberville will continue fighting against the policy and to defend the taxpayer and the unborn," the statement reads. 

Tuberville told Politico that he thinks "we saw some success" even though the Pentagon has not abandoned its abortion travel policy. He acknowledged that "we didn't get as much out of it as we wanted." He attributed his abandonment of the blockade to the fact that the U.S. Senate is looking to "change the rules" regarding military promotions. 

"When they change the rules on you, I had no opportunity to, other than possibly down the road, a lawsuit, but that has nothing to do with the holds," Tuberville said. "That needs to be done in a separate way."

Tuberville's strategy change comes three weeks after the Senate Rules Committee reported a resolution to allow the en bloc consideration of military nominations to the full U.S. Senate. If approved, the resolution would enable the Senate majority leader to initiate the en bloc consideration of such nominations.

Currently, it takes the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate to begin considering multiple military nominations at once. Tuberville's hold on the promotions has prevented them from achieving unanimous consent.

The resolution clarifies that the rules change would not apply to most senior military posts, meaning Tuberville can keep a hold on those promotions. In recent weeks, several Senate Republicans expressed unease about Tuberville's blockade, including Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Todd Young, R-Ind., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The four senators took to the Senate floor last month to express concern about the national security implications of the holds. 

Senate Republicans' increasing discomfort with prolonged holds on military appointments raised the possibility that the resolution would pass. The Senate currently consists of 51 Democrats and 49 Republicans. It would have taken nine Republicans to join with all Democrats in supporting the resolution for it to pass. 

"We didn't get the win that we wanted. We've still got a bad policy," Tuberville concluded. "We tried to stand up for the taxpayers of this country."

The Pentagon announced the so-called abortion travel policy in October 2022 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organizationdecision, which determined that the U.S. Constitution does not contain a right to abortion. Following the Dobbs decision, several states implemented pro-life laws. 

According to the pro-life advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, 15 states have bans on abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy, and all have exceptions in cases of danger to the mother's life or if the baby was conceived as a result of rape or incest or had a fetal anomaly. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

The Pentagon justified the policy as necessary because of concerns that the Dobbs decision would affect the military's ability to "recruit, retain, and maintain the readiness of a highly qualified force."

The memorandum establishing the policy warned that "significant numbers of Service members and their families may be forced to travel greater distances, take more time off from work, and pay more out of pocket expenses to receive reproductive health care" because of the Dobbs ruling.

President Joe Biden released a statement Tuesday expressing gratitude that "Senator Tuberville of Alabama has finally lifted his politically motivated hold on hundreds of military nominations."

"These confirmations are long overdue, and should never have been held up in the first place. Our service members are the backbone of our country and deserve to receive the pay and promotions they have earned. In the end, this was all pointless."

"Senator Tuberville, and the Republicans who stood with him, needlessly hurt hundreds of servicemembers and military families and threatened our national security – all to push a partisan agenda," Biden added. "I hope no one forgets what he did." 

Tuberville claimed that the Biden administration "seems to think the taxpayer-funded abortion is more important than military nominations" because it refused his demands to remove the abortion travel policy. 

"Democrats have spent eleven months attacking me for trying to get them to do the right thing and to stand up for our military," he said in a statement. "No. They didn't want any of that. They wanted their way or the highway."

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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