Senate Panel Adopts ‘Temporary’ Change to Bypass Tuberville’s Military Holds

A long-standing tradition that enables one senator to stop a ‘unanimous consent’ action by the Senate could soon be coming to an end.
Senate Panel Adopts ‘Temporary’ Change to Bypass Tuberville’s Military Holds
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office building in Washington on Feb. 17, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Mark Tapscott
11/14/2023
Updated:
11/14/2023
Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee, led by Chair Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, adopted a procedural change during a Nov. 14 business meeting designed to enable senators to circumvent a hold placed nine months ago by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) on hundreds of President Joe Biden’s military and civilian employees in the Department of Defense (DOD).

The nine Democratic members of the committee approved the proposed change sought by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.), while the rules panel’s eight Republican members opposed it.

The full Senate will likely approve the measure with support from all Democrats. It is not clear, however, how many of the Senate’s 49 Republicans will oppose it. Once the change, which Ms. Klobuchar said only applies to the present Congress, goes into effect, the Senate will quickly approve some—or all—of the 369 pending nominations ensnared in a Senate controversy that began in February when Mr. Tuberville placed a hold on them.

The Alabama Republican did so to protest a new policy announced in 2022 by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, under which the DOD would cover the travel expenses of women in the U.S. military who have to go to a state other than the one in which they are stationed in order to obtain an abortion. Military dependents seeking abortions are also covered under the policy.

Prior to the policy change, DOD covered expenses for only about 20 abortions annually, those covered by permissible exceptions—rape, incest, and life of the mother—to the long-standing federal policy under the Hyde Amendment that bars federal tax dollars from being used for the procedure in all but the most limited circumstances.

Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) speaks at a press conference on lowering prescription drug prices in Washington on July 13, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) speaks at a press conference on lowering prescription drug prices in Washington on July 13, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Before Mr. Tuberville’s holds, the Senate routinely approved DOD nominations by “unanimous consent,” meaning no record was taken in which each individual lawmaker would cast a vote. But Senate tradition requires that every senator be guaranteed an opportunity to be heard, so the objection of only one senator present on the floor is required to kill a unanimous consent confirmation.

The rules panel is unique among Senate committees in that the members include both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

During opening statements prior to the vote, Ms. Klobuchar described the crisis she claimed results from Mr. Tuberville’s action as “holding the entire military command hostage ... this massive hold is hurting our military readiness and our national security, it’s hurting the morale of our troops, and it is causing major disruption in the lives of our military families who have already sacrificed so much already.”

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the panel’s top Republican, described the proposal as “an anomaly” because “the Senate rarely takes up standing orders that temporarily create new Senate procedures. In fact, in past decades, the Senate has only taken up and passed three such measures ... These three previous resolutions, however, were all created in a bipartisan fashion and passed by unanimous consent or with broad bipartisan support.”

Ms. Fischer continued, noting that “this resolution, however, is a political maneuver that does not have the same support. At its core, the resolution is an attempt to protect the Biden administration’s poor policy decisions. Federal law prohibits the Department of Defense from using federal funds for abortions, except in very limited circumstances.”

The Biden administration policy of the DOD covering travel expenses to obtain abortions, Ms. Fischer said, “facilitates abortions by paying for travel across state lines to obtain one. This policy not only goes beyond the department’s statutory authority, it doesn’t do anything to increase our military readiness.” Only a dozen women in the U.S. military have taken advantage of the policy, Ms. Fischer said, citing “unofficial reports.”

Mr. Schumer condemned “one member of the Senate, the senior senator from Alabama, [who] has defied long-standing Senate custom and prevented the swift and bipartisan confirmation of hundreds of flag officers ... If every one of us had the temerity to do what Sen. Tuberville has done, we would have no military. All our national security would vanish.” The full Senate will take up the proposed change in Senate procedures “shortly,” according to Mr. Schumer.

Mr. McConnell called the Democrats’ proposal “ill-advised” and said he would oppose it “at this particular moment,” spurring an expectation that the GOP Senate leader, who has been critical of Mr. Tuberville, will support the Democrats’ proposal on the Senate floor.

When the roll was called for votes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was counted as a No vote by proxy.

Mr. Tuberville could not be reached for comment.

Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.