Share and Follow
Senators are grappling with what the aftershocks of Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) blockade of military promotions will look like — whether it will open the floodgates for members to institute widespread holds or scare them off.
Tuberville relented on Tuesday, lifting his hold on hundreds of nominees after 10 months and ending a saga that has consumed the Senate GOP conference. But he left empty-handed, having not achieved his goal of forcing the Pentagon to repeal a policy that allows service members to be reimbursed for travel expenses to receive abortion care.
The Alabama Republican expressed no regrets. But now lawmakers are questioning what the unprecedented ordeal could mean for the chamber going forward.
“I think this is a really tough calculus problem to figure out,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a conservative who backed Tuberville’s effort. “It’s probably more a decision of the heart than it is mathematically or politically figuring out if it’s worth it.”
A number of Democrats remain worried the ex-Auburn University football coach will inspire some of his conservative colleagues to pick up the mantle on either military nominations or another area and stir up another batch of trouble lawmakers don’t have the appetite for.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, pointed to Sen. JD Vance’s (R-Ohio) blanket hold on Justice Department nominees and lamented that there can be political benefits for those who go ahead with them.
Vance is holding all DOJ nominees in protest of the pair of federal investigations into former President Trump over his handling of classified documents and push to overturn the 2020 election results.
“It’s still a problem. … This is a new era in the Senate. It’s not very promising,” Durbin said. “[Tuberville] got nothing out of it except bad publicity and a lot of contributions, so I don’t know. If you want to raise money, you act out of character and scream, shout, wave your arms — do something outrageous.”
“It’s unfortunate,” he added.
Vance is not on the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his hold has kept U.S. attorney nominees from being considered on the floor expeditiously. As of last week, Vance says three nominees are subject to his hold.
Part of the impetus behind Tuberville’s lifting of the military roadblock was the potential for a vote on the Senate floor that would have changed the rules of the chamber temporarily. Senate Republicans worried the vote would have created a new precedent and could have been the opening salvo to altering the ability for a member to hold a nominee in the future.
Even some of the most conservative members who are known for gumming up processes argued there is an art to an effective hold, and Tuberville’s all-gas-and-no-breaks push was the wrong approach.
“Part of using leverage is knowing when you can press and when pressing too hard is counterproductive. If the outcome is the Senate rules change to take away the ability to utilize that leverage, at that point, you risk becoming counterproductive,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“It is using leverage in a focused way,” Cruz told The Hill. “It can be effective against an administration, but in this instance, the negative consequences were getting significant.”
Lawmakers in both parties have placed notable holds on various nominees.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced a blockade of the administration’s health-related nominees, including Monica Bertagnolli to become head of the National Institutes of Health, over prescription drug prices. Sanders lifted his hold on Bertagnolli in September, and she was confirmed shortly after.
Senate Energy Committee Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also placed a hold on all EPA nominees in May.
However, other senators believe Tuberville’s inability to get a policy change or even strike a deal with the administration toward a middle ground will serve as a warning against following his lead with such a sweeping blockade.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated multiple times following Tuberville’s announcement that he got “nothing” in return when all was said and done.
“What happened here is a lesson … on how irresponsible that was,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said. “I think it may discourage those types of abuses by individual members.”
Tuberville’s months-long hold was particularly notable as, unlike other senators, it related to military nominations and promotions rather than nominations to join the administration that were deemed political. Until earlier this year, military nominees were considered nonpolitical and were greenlighted en masse.
“I’m not sure there’s anything untouchable today,” Cardin said. “We’ve crossed a lot of lines in recent years.”