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Sen. Tommy Tuberville

Inside Senate Republicans’ decision to unload on Tuberville

Nine months of pent-up anger — and a contentious lunch meeting — gave way to an extraordinary fight Wednesday night between Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and his GOP colleagues on the Senate floor.

Republican defense hawks unleashed their fury on Tuberville. They spent four-plus hours haranguing him as they tried to confirm dozens of the more than 300 military promotions the Alabama GOP senator has been blocking over his opposition to the Pentagon’s abortion policy.

“Their careers are being punished over a policy dispute they had nothing to do with and that they have no power to resolve,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a Marine reservist who co-led the offensive on the floor.

It was a moment months in the making. But one that came together abruptly on Wednesday after GOP senators tussled over their party’s inaction on the crisis during a private meeting, according to multiple sources.

“We’re each getting calls from military families that are being impacted by this hold, and we recognize that there is personal suffering as well as issues of military readiness,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told us late Wednesday. “So we need to act.”

But it quickly became clear that not even a parade of angry GOP hawks could convince Tuberville to back off. Tuberville stayed on the floor the entire night, objecting to each promotion as his fellow Republicans extolled the credentials of 61 different nominees.

Republicans prefaced their remarks on the floor by saying they, like Tuberville, oppose the Pentagon’s abortion policy. But they quickly abandoned any niceties as the evening dragged on, vowing to continue pressing their case in the coming days.

As Tuberville continued to object, Sullivan said at one point that Tuberville was on a “national security suicide mission.”

Three hours in and dozens of objections later, Sullivan lost it: “Xi Jinping is loving this. So is Putin. How dumb can we be, man?”

Just past 10 p.m., Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), an Army combat veteran who co-led the floor effort, insinuated that Tuberville isn’t a man of his word.

“We have done the best we can to honor the request of a fellow senator that these nominations be brought to the floor and voted on individually,” she said. “I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honor their word.”

So why now?

Sullivan and other Republicans were using procedural tactics over the last week to force floor votes on individual high-level military promotions as a way to circumvent Tuberville’s blockade. The war in Israel also played a role because several CENTCOM positions are among those Tuberville is blocking.

But Sullivan said there’s been no progress toward a solution. “The world is a dangerous place,” Sullivan added, “so tonight we’re taking a different approach.”

Republicans had been sitting on the sidelines while Democrats took to the Senate floor on a near-weekly basis all year to hammer Republicans for “enabling” Tuberville. Some GOP senators spoke out against Tuberville’s tactics, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Tuberville never faced real pressure to back down.

Last week, things began to change. We scooped that Democrats were crafting a resolution that would temporarily allow many of the stalled promotions to be confirmed en bloc. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has since announced he’d bring it to the floor.

Republicans are skittish about this, fearing it could set a precedent that weakens individual senators’ power. At the GOP lunch Wednesday, senators complained that they didn’t have a strategy of their own to counter it. Ernst had told us she worried Democrats would try to “shove [a rules change] down our throats” if Tuberville’s blockade continues.

By 6 p.m., Sullivan and Ernst had commandeered the floor, and the nine-month saga entered a new phase with an entirely different strategy: Publicly shame Tuberville.

“We’ve been reading off these names just as fast as our staff can get them to us,” Ernst said, underscoring the last-minute nature of the proposal.

Schumer reiterated he still plans to hold a vote on the resolution. Tuberville’s continued intransigence could lead some Republicans to support it as a last resort.

— Andrew Desiderio

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