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Tommy Tuberville Sept 26

Republicans cool to new push to circumvent Tuberville blockade

Senate Republicans say they’re eager to end Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) months-long blockade of military promotions. But they’re not quite ready to embrace a new proposal aimed at speeding up the confirmation process.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and several Democrats are preparing to send a resolution to the Senate Rules Committee that would temporarily allow multiple promotions to be voted on at the same time, we scooped Wednesday. This would alleviate the need to vote on each individually, which would take months of floor time.

But interviews with more than a dozen GOP senators — even those who oppose Tuberville’s moves — revealed a reluctance to support anything that could be seen as setting a new precedent that weakens individual senators’ power.

“The Senate doesn’t just run on rules, it runs on precedents as well,” Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the Rules Committee’s top Republican, told us. “This would allow a majority to decide, at any time, that a member’s privileges could be overruled by a one-time exemption. I think that’s dangerous.”

The war in Israel has upped the pressure for the Senate to act on the 300-plus promotions Tuberville has been blocking, including two Joint Chiefs of Staff vacancies and a dozen U.S. Central Command positions. (Joint Chiefs and combatant commander nominees would still require individual votes under Sinema’s plan.)

We first reported that Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) is expected to soon force votes on the two Joint Chiefs positions — another sign Republicans are getting restless.

But Sullivan and several other Republicans said they worry the Sinema plan, which would require GOP support on the floor, could set the stage for the so-called “nuclear option” — abolishing the Senate’s filibuster. Others suggested Democrats were forcing a choice between a temporary fix and going nuclear.

Sullivan was cool to Sinema’s resolution but said he wants to find a way to swiftly approve more than just the upper-level promotions.

“As we get into very dangerous times… the urgency of that global fix, in my view, is really important,” Sullivan told us. “We’ve just got to get compromise on both sides.”

Yet Tuberville’s unwillingness to bend has forced Republicans into a politically uncomfortable position.

Tuberville warned it would be political “suicide” for Republicans to back the Democratic resolution because “the number one thing that Republicans, most of us, stand for is [being] pro-life.” His blockade is a protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy.

“The only power we have in the minority… is holds — to get the other group’s attention,” he added. “So they’re going to burn down the Senate rules for this without negotiation?”

On the other hand, Sinema’s involvement could give credibility to the effort, given that she previously helped Republicans preserve the Senate’s filibuster.

That’s why some GOP leaders aren’t dismissing this out of hand or whipping against it, preferring to stay on the sidelines for now. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, who is close with Sinema, told us her proposal is “one of a number of things that are being talked about to try and break the logjam.”

Republicans have acknowledged the Pentagon’s concerns that the blockade is harming military readiness. Others, like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, say they oppose Tuberville’s tactic because it’s punishing non-political military officers for decisions of political appointees.

“I agree with Kyrsten that we’ve got to come up with a solution,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of leadership. “We’ve got to start moving promotions. It’s a good-faith effort, I just think it’s going to require broader support.”

— Andrew Desiderio

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