Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee joined GOP Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville late Thursday night to maintain a hold on military nominations in protest of the Pentagon’s radical abortion policy.
After the upper chamber approved a series of late-night proposals, including a last-minute measure to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, several Republicans led by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan stood up to circumvent Tuberville’s hold and confirm nominees. Sullivan was joined by GOP Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Todd Young of Indiana.
“We were down on the floor weeks ago, and at that time, we promised military members and their families that we had their back, that we would keep coming down to the Senate floor to try to move forward their nominations and confirmations that have been stalled,” Sullivan said. “Tonight, we’re going to bring up some more members.”
Sullivan slammed his Alabama colleague for jeopardizing military morale and readiness when overseas threats in China and the Middle East continue to raise the risk of global conflict.
“I wish we could resolve this,” Sullivan said. “I’m on the floor here more out of sadness and frustration than anger. I really do wish with my colleague, Senator Tuberville, we can find a way forward on this fast, to turn to the even bigger readiness problem.”
Lawmakers spent the next three hours trying to ram through stalled military promotions but were blocked by Lee, who chairs the Senate Steering Committee and spoke at length in defense of Tuberville’s hold with each objection. Tuberville, Lee said, has “chosen a tactic that is legitimate, and he has every right to deploy under the rules of the Senate, rules that go back nearly two and a half centuries.”
Tuberville placed a hold on military promotions earlier this year when the Defense Department implemented a new policy allowing servicemembers three weeks of paid leave for abortion-related travel. Federal law, however, prohibits U.S. tax dollars from funding abortion. According to the Pentagon, more than 450 military promotions have been put on hold since the Alabama lawmaker began pressuring the Biden administration to reverse course.
“You cannot use Department of Defense funds or Department of Defense facilities or property for abortion,” Lee said on the Senate floor. “You cannot do that in the absence of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in jeopardy unless the abortion happens.”
“You can’t legislate from the E-ring of the Pentagon no matter how strongly he feels, no matter how compelling his urge to facilitate the performance of abortion using federal funds contrary to public opinion, contrary to federal law. He does not have that power. And shame on him,” Lee added forcefully. “It is to his everlasting shame that he would arrogate to himself that power and then have the audacity to blame Senator Tuberville for the slowdown that he himself knowingly, willfully, shamefully created.”
The senior senator from Utah also pushed back on accusations from Tuberville’s opponents that such holds have jeopardized military readiness.
“If this is affecting military readiness, so be it,” Lee said, reminding colleagues that Democrats who run the White House and the Pentagon can “end it tonight.”
“We talk about military readiness; why on Earth are we not aiming our remarks at President Biden or at Secretary [Lloyd Austin]?” Lee said. “They all have the ability to end this.”
Sullivan, Graham, Young, and Ernst previously launched an effort to counter Tuberville’s hold at the start of the month, arguing the senator’s tactic is also hurting retention efforts. They stopped bringing new nominations to the floor once it was clear Senator Lee intended to essentially filibuster with half-hour-long speeches with each objection.
In his first speech early Thursday morning, Lee complained about Republicans buying into the administration’s narrative that effective leadership sabotaged the military.
“I can’t believe anybody buys this crap,” Lee said. “I really can’t — let alone anyone from the same party as Senator Tuberville.”