Tensions are erupting within the Senate GOP ranks as members with backgrounds in the armed forces take on Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) over his hold on military promotions.
The group of Republicans, led by Sen. Dan Sullivan (Alaska), pushed the intraparty disagreement over how to resolve Tuberville’s holds into the public sphere last week with a floor effort to move forward on 61 promotions. Tuberville blocked each one.
Where to go from here has left Republicans flummoxed.
Sullivan on Thursday vowed to head back to the floor to try to advance some nominees. Others have left open the possibility of backing a standing order resolution authored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) that would allow lawmakers to move most military nominees in a bloc through the end of the year.
At present, Tuberville is holding up more than 370 promotions to protest a Pentagon abortion policy. The holds are in their eighth month and, coupled with the emerging crises in Israel and other parts of the world, Senate Republicans are getting increasingly frustrated.
Wednesday’s attempts to move nominees — which Democrats have repeatedly attempted, but Republicans had not before last week — was a clear example.
“It’s come to a head,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told The Hill. “We’ve done our best to try to work through the issues, but with everything going on in the world, it’s time to address the concern.”
Senate Republicans are expected to do just that next week as they plan a conference meeting to figure out a way forward.
Lawmakers discussed that possibility during lunch Thursday. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Senate Republicans “need to have a full out conference” that includes all parties, including Tuberville — who was not present for lunch Thursday.
Sullivan, a 30-year member of the Marine Corps, told reporters Wednesday night’s back and forth was a “demonstration of frustration,” adding he remains hopeful to strike an agreement with Tuberville and that he trusts the Alabama Republican remains a willing negotiator on this issue.
“Sometimes you have a rough evening and it can reorient your thinking,” Sullivan said. “I think there’s opportunities for good faith negotiations, absolutely.”
The Alaska Republican added he is also considering putting together another petition to force more military votes on the floor.
The chamber on Thursday confirmed Adm. Lisa Franchetti and Gen. David Allvin to become chief of naval operations and Air Force chief of staff, respectively.
The chamber also confirmed Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney to be the assistant commandant of the Marines — a position that prompted quick action after Marines Commandant Gen. Eric Smith was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness.
Sullivan also left the door open to working with Democrats on the standing order resolution, but added that finding a solution on the GOP side is his “preference.”
The resolution, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he plans to bring to the floor, would need 60 votes to pass.
In moving most nominations as one bloc, the Senate could avoid using up valuable floor time for more than 300 nominations and Democrats hope it would also avoid setting a precedent of moving nominees through regular order.
But Republicans have been reluctant to jump on board with the push in part because they did not want to create a precedent of temporarily changing the rules or affect the ability of senators in the minority party to use the power to object in the future.
However, a similar situation happened a decade ago, easing some GOP members’ concerns at a time when some say desperate times call for action.
“It depends on what that proposal is,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a 23-year veteran of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard who joined Sullivan on the floor for the duration of Wednesday night’s proceedings. “We would have to consider it. … But we don’t want to go there. We’re going to try every avenue possible.”
“We need these nominees in place,” she continued. “This world is far too dangerous — far too dangerous — to keep them on the sidelines.”
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), a retired Marine captain who also was part of the group Wednesday, added he hasn’t “ruled that out,” but first wanted to see if Tuberville would “offer some accommodation.”
Wednesday night’s floor battle also featured continued barbs in Tuberville’s direction from Sullivan and Ernst over the process to confirm the individuals, with the pair repeatedly saying they were doing what the Alabama senator wanted: individual consideration of nominees.
Tuberville on Thursday told reporters they were wrong, saying his call is for the full process for each, including cloture and final passage tallies. He also conceded that of the more than 300 individuals up for promotions his office has vetted, he has issues with only roughly 10 to 15 percent of them.
But for now, GOP lawmakers are well aware of the tensions that are simmering throughout the conference.
“I think it shows you how raw the feelings are,” Capito said.
“I think it’s frustrating for all of us that we can’t seem to find a way that Sen. Tuberville can be satisfied. At the same time, there doesn’t seem to be any movement there,” Capito continued. “That’s the frustration.”