“I hate to have to do this,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville. “But they’re going to listen.”

“They think I’m going to change my mind. I’m not changing my mind,” he said in an interview with CNA on Wednesday. “They’re going to be stuck with a lot of admirals and generals without promotions.” 

The Alabama Republican has been holding up military promotions on the Senate floor since March of this year in protest of the Pentagon’s policy of paying for the travel costs of servicewomen who get abortions. 

Tuberville — a former head coach of Auburn University’s football team who continues to go by the sobriquet “Coach” — has referred to the Pentagon’s rule as a “radical plan to facilitate thousands of abortions a year with taxpayer dollars.”

In February, the Department of Defense said that servicewomen and their families who live in states where abortion is illegal will be given 21 days of leave for abortions and be reimbursed for travel expenses to “access non-covered reproductive health care.”

In response, at the outset of his protest in March, Tuberville vowed to “hold all Department of Defense civilian, flag, and general officer nominations that come before the U.S. Senate.” 

He has made good on that promise, throwing a wrench into what is normally a workaday part of congressional proceedings. The blockade, for instance, has left the Marine Corps without an official commandant for the first time in approximately 150 years. 

“We heard the military was going to change their abortion policy,” Tuberville told CNA. “We started asking for a briefing. It took three months to get that briefing.”

“I sent a letter to [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin and said, ‘If you do this I’m going to put a hold on all your admirals and generals,’” Tuberville said. “We never heard from him. A few months later they started the new policy. And now six months later here we are.”

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“I don’t think they understood I would make this hold permanent,” Tuberville added.

The senator said the holdup at present is less about abortion and more that the Pentagon chose to institute the policy outside of congressional approval. The rule should go through the normal legislative process, he argued. 

“If it passes, or if it doesn’t, that makes no difference,” he said. “Let’s legislate in the House and the Senate.”

The blockade has drawn the ire of Democratic senators, eight of whom this week pleaded with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to “protect the readiness of our military” and use his authority to end Tuberville’s holdup.

“As the leader of the Republican Conference, we count on you to hold your colleagues accountable when they recklessly cross boundaries and upend senatorial order,” the senators said in a letter, calling Tuberville’s stalemate “reckless” and “dangerous.”

Tuberville told CNA that if the holdup in promotions was having a negative effect on U.S. military capability, he would be taking a different approach. “If I thought this would affect readiness, I wouldn’t be doing this,” he said. “Readiness is not a problem.”

He cited as an example Gen. Eric Smith, who, though he hasn’t been officially promoted, is currently performing the duties of the Marine Corps commandant in an acting role.

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All told, the protest has blocked what the Democratic senators in their letter said were “hundreds” of promotions.

The senator’s office pointed out that the holdup merely “forces the Senate to consider and vote on the nominations by regular order” instead of “approving them in batches by unanimous consent.” The nominations “can still be approved by the Senate,” but only if “the majority leader [makes] additional time for them to be considered on the floor.”

“I can’t stop them doing it one at a time,” Tuberville told CNA. “They can send them over and vote on them. They just can’t do it in a group.”

Tuberville’s office noted that senators — both Democrats and Republicans — have blocked military promotions many times over the last several decades in order to force certain policies or issues. In 1992, for example, thousands of promotions to the Navy were delayed pending an investigation into the infamous Tailhook scandal.

The 1980s-era Hyde Amendment has long forbidden the federal government from using taxpayer dollars to pay for most abortions. The Pentagon’s new policy thus exists in an uncertain gray area in which the government is paying for a service adjacent to abortion in order to facilitate abortion itself.

Tuberville said the U.S. is “not going to legislate from the Pentagon. And we’re not going to change the laws without a vote.”

“What they do now is they change the policy back and let’s vote on it,” he said. “They’re going to do it right. We’re going to go by the Constitution.”