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Sen. Tobby Tuberville

Senate Republicans’ next big move on the Tuberville battle

To hear Senate Republicans tell it, they want to find every possible way to break Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) military promotions blockade before resorting to a temporary patch proposed by Democrats.

But unless Tuberville suddenly relents — the equivalent of Hell freezing over — what they’re really doing is laying the groundwork for an eventual vote in favor of the Democratic resolution that would allow multiple promotions to be approved in tandem.

In the coming days, Republicans — who say the resolution would amount to setting a dangerous precedent — will attempt to show that they’ve exhausted every possible option and were forced into backing it. And that will mean putting Tuberville’s intransigence on full display.

“Sometimes you have a rough evening and you can reorient your thinking,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said of the likelihood Tuberville backs off. “But I’m not done. Oh, I’m not done.”

Republicans like Sullivan are trying to show they’re bending over backward to convince Tuberville to find a different way to express his view on the abortion policy. One is to pursue a lawsuit, which would take months if not years, and the other is to place a hold on the nominee for Pentagon policy chief, Derek Chollet.

Of course, neither would be palatable to Tuberville because his leverage would suddenly vanish. That’s why Republicans are planning even more attempts to confirm promotions on the Senate floor this week — which will once again serve to highlight Tuberville’s obstinacy and help GOP senators explain their eventual vote for the resolution.

“I’m all for keeping the Senate’s existing rules in place. But Tommy’s ruining it for all of us,” one GOP senator close to the ongoing talks lamented.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said the resolution would set a bad precedent, but Tuberville’s holds “also set a bad precedent — placing a hold on hundreds of military promotions at a time of war and national-security tumult.”

When asked if Tuberville was negotiating in good faith, Sullivan, who’s leading the effort with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), paused before responding: “I think there are opportunities for good-faith negotiations, absolutely.”

Not necessarily a ringing endorsement. And it says a lot about the spot Tuberville is in. The Alabama Republican has boxed himself into a position that will not yield the outcome he wants — the reversal of the Pentagon’s abortion policy. But the alternative is a total capitulation, which wouldn’t go over well with the GOP base that’s cheering him on.

Democrats believe the trend of GOP senators speaking out against Tuberville will only accelerate as defense hawks continue to show that Tuberville isn’t backing off.

“I don’t think Tuberville wins. I think in the end we solve the problem,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “If there aren’t [enough GOP votes] the first time we offer it, there probably will be the second time.”

There are institutional considerations here, too, and these will surely be vocalized at a special Republican Conference meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

The Democrat-led resolution, while not technically a rules change under the Senate’s definition, is, in layman’s terms, a temporary change to existing rules with a specified end date.

This would be short of going nuclear. And there’s a belief within leadership that the longer this drags on, the more it whets Democrats’ appetite for the nuclear option.

Another argument we expect will be made at the Tuesday meeting: This doesn’t just harm the military; it hands Democrats an election-year argument that Republicans are willing to tear down the military over abortion.

Another thing to consider — the messengers. Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) are probably the best people to make the case to the universe of Republicans who’d consider voting for the resolution. Reed and Sinema, who are co-leading it, have good relationships with Republicans and track records for building coalitions.

— Andrew Desiderio

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