Sen. Tommy Tuberville continues to make a clown of himself while screwing up the entire U.S. military with his temper tantrum over a military policy that pays for abortion-related travel by service members and their families. House Foreign Affairs Chair Mike McCaul recently told CNN, “The idea that one man in the Senate can hold this up for months … is paralyzing the Department of Defense,” he said, adding, “I think that is a national security problem and a national security issue.”
Tuberville responded to that criticism by a fellow Republican by saying, “He got his facts a little crossways there.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could use a much more time-consuming process to get a vote on the nominations than the unanimous consent Tuberville has been blocking to the point where three branches of the military are currently without Senate-confirmed leaders. As Joan McCarter recently explained, “It could take the Senate weeks to work through each nomination, even if they were devoting all day, every day, to process them. That’s why the Senate normally takes up these routine promotions and nominations in blocs, with voice votes that are unanimously approved.”
But speaking of facts going a little crossways, Tuberville spoke to reporters about the effect his hold would have on replacing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley, who is slated to retire by Oct. 1. Tuberville’s take on that deadline was that Milley would simply stay in his job until he was replaced—and when he was told that Milley was required by law to leave on that date, Tuberville replied, “He has to leave? He’s out. Get somebody else to do the job.”
That’s not so easy. Over the summer, retired Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro explained the practical impact of that position to Politico. “A good example of what’s happening in the Marine Corps is you have Eric Smith, who’s the assistant commandant—that’s still his billet because he didn’t get confirmed,” Punaro said. “He’s doing the equivalent of two full-time four-star jobs right now. It’d be like asking the Auburn quarterback to play offensive tackle and quarterback at the same time. … I don’t think people really understand how detrimental this really is on a day-to-day basis.”
Punaro is just one of the current and former military leaders, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is arguing that Tuberville is harming military readiness.
Tuberville’s hold is in protest of a Pentagon policy reimbursing service members or their family members for travel from states where abortion is banned to ones where it is legal if they need abortion care. In July, White House national security spokesman John Kirby explained why that policy matters for military readiness.
“You go where you’re told, that’s the way orders work,” he said. “What happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place? And you’re concerned about your reproductive care? What do you do? Do you say no and you get out? Well, some people may decide to do that, and what does that mean? That means we lose talent, important talent.”
“It can have an extremely, extremely significant impact on our recruiting and our retention,” he added. “It’s just the right darn thing to do for people who raise their hand and agree to serve in the military.”
The fact that Tuberville’s belief about Milley’s deadline to step down was completely wrong does not change Tuberville’s views on his own actions. Tuberville has repeatedly been confronted with facts that don’t fit his narrative about his blanket military nominations hold, and nothing ever changes because the man is not capable of absorbing new information and either changing his mind or simply backing down. This isn’t an uncommon stance for a congressional Republican.
In this case, because of the way Senate rules let one person obstruct nominations and because other Senate Republicans will not get together and make Tuberville stop, it’s racking up a lot of damage.
Trump’s continuing legal problems, the car crash of a Republican debate, and the polling numbers defy the traditional media’s narrative that the Republican Party is even above water with voters.