Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., arrives for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee is planning a hearing next week to consider a move to end Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s one-man blockade on military promotions, which has been going since February and is now stalling more than 450 nominations.

“There are now 452 nominations … at the Senate for consideration that are currently impacted by Sen. Tuberville’s holds,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Tuesday.

The backlog of nominations has increased in the past couple of weeks as the Pentagon has submitted more top military promotions to the Senate for confirmation. Singh said the Defense Department has submitted several new nominations this week, for example.

The Senate Rules Committee has set a Nov. 14 hearing for a proposal that would sidestep Tuberville’s blockade by allowing the upper chamber to confirm military promotions in batches with minimal debate. According to the resolution, senators could permit “the en bloc consideration of military nominations” as long as the nominees have been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“There shall be no limit on the number of motions in order under this resolution,” the five-page proposal states.

If the Senate passes the resolution, it will remain active for the rest of the 118th Congress, which will end in January 2025. All military promotions can be confirmed under the resolution, except nominees for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and leaders of the combatant commands.

“Sen. Tuberville refuses to heed the warnings of our top military officials. He refuses to even cooperate with members of his own party who have pleaded with him to lift this hold,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chairwoman of the rules committee. “This vote … will allow us to finally move forward with military confirmations, filling critical positions and protecting our military readiness.”

Tuberville, who was a football coach before he was elected to the Senate in 2020, has been blocking military promotions since February to protest a Pentagon policy that reimburses troops who travel out of state to receive reproductive care, including abortions. Some Republican-controlled states have outlawed or imposed severe restrictions on the practice since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in mid-2022. Among the nominees still being blocked are the commander and deputy commander of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which operates in the Middle East, as well as the U.S. defense attaché to Israel.

“And the list goes on,” Singh told reporters at the Pentagon. “These holds have a direct effect on our military readiness, our national security and our military families.”

Traditionally, the Senate confirms large numbers of military nominations by voice vote. For example, senators might raise a group of dozens of nominees and ask for unanimous consent to confirm the officers in their new posts. But under Senate rules, the process cannot go forward if one senator objects. For the past nine months, Tuberville has objected every attempt to confirm the nominees this way — even against recent opposition from other Republicans who said the blockade is doing harm to American troops and U.S. defenses around the world.

“This hold is unnecessary, unprecedented and unsafe. It’s bad for the military, it’s bad for military families and it’s bad for America, and it needs to stop now,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said Tuesday during a panel discussion. “Confirmation of these leaders is critical to our national security.”

Since September, Senate Democrats have been able to get around Tuberville’s hold by individually confirming several of the most senior military nominees, including Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff, Adm. Lisa Franchetti as chief of naval operations, Gen. David Allvin as Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Eric Smith as Marine Corps commandant and Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney as assistant Marine Corps commandant. But it would be time consuming to confirm 452 nominees in this fashion.

Tuberville’s blockade sparked more criticism and greater concern recently after Smith suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Smith, who was confirmed in September, had been performing the duties of commandant and assistant commandant because Mahoney’s nomination was among those being stalled by Tuberville. Mahoney was quickly confirmed a few days after Smith was hospitalized.

Tuberville was reportedly set to meet with Senate Republicans in a closed-door session on Tuesday afternoon to discuss ending his hold on military promotions.

“We’re going to talk about several options today. I know people are getting impatient, as am I,” Tuberville said according to The Associated Press.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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