Senate Democrats have challenged Mr. Tuberville at least a half-dozen times on the Senate floor to stop holding military promotions to ransom, and the Armed Services Committee has continued to hold confirmation hearings for high-ranking candidates. in the hope that the Alabama senator can relent. General Charles Q. Brown, Air Chief of Staff and President Biden’s pick to succeed Mr. Milley as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and General Randy A. George, Army Deputy Chief of Staff whom Mr. Biden nominated to take over as army chief, both are scheduled for hearings this week.
But their efforts so far have failed to dissuade Mr. Tuberville, who dismissed his critics arguing that Senate leaders have options for resolving the impasse. He has suggested that Congress pass Republican-sponsored legislation to reverse the Pentagon’s abortion-access policy — or a competing Democratic bill to give the policy the force of law. He has challenged Senate leaders to get around his block by voting on promotions individually, arguing that he would be willing to approve some promotions if forced to vote.
But Senate aides say none of his suggestions are workable. Senate leaders believe it would be nearly impossible to muster enough votes, between the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House, to send legislation to the president’s desk that affirms or reverses Pentagon policy. And they’re sick of trying to procedurally get around Mr. Tuberville’s protest because of the amount of time it would take to clear the arcane Senate hurdles for all the nominations he’s withholding.
Senate leaders are also resisting pressure from grassroots lawmakers to make an exception for the Joint Chiefs, fearing that doing so would legitimize Tuberville’s protest — and encourage others who have grievances with Pentagon policies to emulate his approach.
Meanwhile, Tuberville has steadfastly rejected the compromises Senate leaders have offered him. He refused to cave in exchange for a closed-door vote in the Armed Services Committee last month against a bill that overturned Pentagon policy. And he has publicly dodged the idea of settling his dispute by voting the Pentagon policy as an amendment to the annual defense policy bill, which is due to begin passing the House next week.
Senate leaders hope to change Tuberville’s mind in the coming weeks.
Challenges to the Pentagon’s abortion access policy are expected to figure in the House debate on the defense authorization bill. Republicans have already tabled two proposals — one with more than 50 co-sponsors — to prevent the Defense Department from using federal funds to reimburse any abortion-related expenses, which would effectively undo the Pentagon’s policy. A group of House Democrats has presented a competing proposal seeking to make the Pentagon’s refund policy a requirement of federal law.
Even if any of these changes were made to the House bill, they would still face significant hurdles in the Senate, particularly as aides on both parties fear that if the defense bill to be passed is seen as a horse of Troy for abortion measures, lawmakers vote against en masse. But they hope that such a public referendum on Pentagon policy will corner Mr. Tuberville, creating public pressure on him to give up the search for him.