Meet the U.S. senator holding the line on Pentagon appointments in fight over taxpayer-funded abortions

Tuberville Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2020. He was the head coach of Auburn University's football team from 1999 to 2008. | Sen. Tommy Tuberville Facebook page.

The nationwide debate over abortion has spilled over into the Senate’s confirmation of military appointments, which has turned a usually simple and routine process into a battleground over the rights of unborn children. 

Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, has blocked 184 promotions for generals and officers, which the Department of Defense (DOD) has asked the Senate to confirm. Tuberville refused to allow their confirmations by unanimous consent of the Senate, which would force Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to bring every nominee up for a vote individually if Tuberville remains firm.

Although these confirmations are usually approved by unanimous consent on the first vote, the politicization of the DOD has shaken up the process. Tuberville stood against their confirmations because of a DOD policy that uses taxpayer money to fund travel and paid time off needed for an employee to procure an abortion. The policy also provides funds for an employee’s spouse or an employee’s dependents who are seeking an abortion. 

“Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about,” Tuberville said on the Senate floor. “We’re not talking about access to abortion. We’re talking about taxpayer funding for travel and extra pay time to get elective abortions.”

“This policy includes spouses and dependents,” the senator continued. “We’re talking about taxpayer funding for somebody’s kids to get an abortion in another state. This has never been in the policy until now because Congress has ensured that the Pentagon cannot perform or facilitate abortions, except in legal circumstances and limited.” 

Current law prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion in most cases under the Hyde Amendment, which has been in effect since 1980. However, the Hyde Amendment does not explicitly prohibit the federal government from using taxpayer funds to support an employee’s travel expenses or time off for an abortion. Although Republicans have introduced bills that would block federal funding for this purpose, those proposals have been rejected by Democratic lawmakers.

Tuberville’s decision to hold up military appointments has led to attacks from Schumer and other Democrats who have urged everyone in the Senate to support unanimous consent.

“The senator from Alabama continues his hold on more than 180 … military promotions, blatantly ignoring many warnings of the harm he is causing to our national security,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “It’s reckless; it’s just reckless.”

Schumer quoted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said that holding up the nominations “actually creates a ripple effect through the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be.”

Tuberville has rejected those claims, stating on the Senate floor that “this entire line of attack on me is absolutely false” and argued that the military suffers from a shortage of recruits but not a shortage of generals. He added that Democrats can hold individual votes on each nominee if they want to do so.

“Every single one of these nominees can receive a vote if Sen. Schumer wants it,” Tuberville said. “... If Democrats are so worried about these nominations, let’s vote. If we’re not going to vote on taxpayer-funded abortion, then let’s vote on these nominees. Voting is our job. It’s not much to ask of the United States Senate to do our job to vote.” 

The senator also said his refusal to allow these nominations to go through with unanimous consent is not unprecedented. 

“My hold is far from unprecedented,” Tuberville said. “In fact, Sen. [Michael] Bennet himself threatened to do this exact same thing just a few months ago. … Two years ago, we had a senator from Illinois put a hold on 1,000 nominees over the promotion of one single officer.”

After he took his stand, some Republican lawmakers have come out to support Tuberville. 

“Until these policies are rescinded, I’m going to also have to consider holds against DOD nominees in solidarity with my colleagues,” Sen. Ted Budd, R-North Carolina, told Austin during a hearing. “Mr. Secretary, you can fix this … in nearly an instant. I would encourage that.”

Others, such as Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, also came to his aid. 

“I think he’s right in his concern for what the department is doing because we have never agreed to fund abortions in the past, and on this particular case, it’s a pretty fine line when you’re funding to get them someplace to get an abortion,” Rounds told The Hill. 

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As the Senate enters into recess for Easter, Tuberville intends to stand firm in his approach. 

“The Democrats are in panic over the idea of taking more votes,” the senator said. “I don’t mind working a full week; I worked all my life. I’ve had a full-time job. I’ll stay here until hell freezes over. I’m not going to be intimidated by a campaign of selective outrage.” 

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