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Tuberville drops hold on all promotions except those for four-star generals

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After nine months, Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville has allowed more than 400 military promotions to proceed.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He'd been putting a hold on Senate votes to approve those promotions. A hold like this is the prerogative of any senator, though it's rarely used to this extent. Tuberville was protesting a Pentagon policy that reimbursed service members for traveling for abortion services. He admits he failed to change that policy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOMMY TUBERVILLE: We didn't get the win that we wanted. We've still got a bad policy. We've tried to stand up for the taxpayers of this country.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is with us now to tell us more about this. Good morning, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So as we've just said, this has been going on for months now. What made Tuberville decide to back down now? Like, why now?

WALSH: Really, political pressure. But notably, some of the most public criticism came from fellow Senate Republicans who were growing frustrated. Some sharp rebukes came from military veterans, like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, who warned about the damage this was causing to the military. Also, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was planning a vote to get around Tuberville's hold, to change how the Senate approves military promotions, and some Senate Republicans were open to voting for that.

Senators complained Tuberville was blocking hundreds of officers' promotions over a policy that they weren't involved in crafting. This was a policy put into place after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It covered the costs service members incurred for accessing abortion services. Some needed to travel out of state following new laws banning the procedure. Tuberville admitted the holds didn't work, but he said he might fight the policy in court.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUBERVILLE: I think we saw some success. We didn't get as much out of it as we wanted. But again, when they change the rules on you, I had no opportunity to - other than possibly down the road, a lawsuit.

MARTIN: OK. He says he had some success. Did he?

WALSH: No. I mean, no policy change at all. I mean, he argues he put a spotlight on the issue, but he also admitted any legal fight he could wage could take a really long time to play out. His hold to block actions on these promotions was really unprecedented in terms of how many people it impacted, how long it lasted. But as Steve mentioned, under Senate rules, any one senator has the ability to place these holds. Schumer warned this episode should be a warning to others to not do this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: He held out for many, many months, hurt our national security, caused discombobulation to so many military families who have been so dedicated to our country and didn't get anything that he wanted.

MARTIN: And what's the Pentagon's response to this whole episode? And I also want to know, he hasn't dropped all the holds, has he? There are still some that he's holding up.

WALSH: Right. He's still holding up 11 four-star generals. Tuberville says he wants a more thorough vetting of these top leaders. The Pentagon is pushing for them to be approved quickly. The Pentagon spokesman, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, stressed that these generals include the vice chiefs of various services, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, the Northern Command, commander of Cyber Command, Space Command. Ryder says these are all key areas overseeing a lot of policy and need Senate approval quickly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT RYDER: Clearly, vital and critical organizations, all of which require experienced senior leaders in those positions.

MARTIN: Quickly, Deirdre, before we let you go, what were the repercussions of this backlog on the families of service members?

WALSH: A lot of people were in limbo for months. Officers were unable to move for their new positions. That impacted their spouses getting jobs or their kids starting new schools. Schumer brought up the promotions hours after Tuberville released the hold, and over 400 were approved by voice vote.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Deirdre, thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.