As the attacks on Sen. Tommy Tuberville escalated this week, the Alabama Republican appeared even more determined to undo a new Defense Department policy allowing U.S. military and their family members to obtain taxpayer-funded abortions.
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Tuberville rebuffed yet another Democrat attempt to unanimously approve nearly 200 promotions for military generals and flag officers. It was the third time Tuberville stymied Democrats—and he showed no sign of relenting.
“I will stay here until hell freezes over. I am not going to be intimidated by a campaign of selective outrage,” Tuberville said. “I gave the Pentagon fair warning. They chose to go forward with this policy … This was the Biden administration’s choice. I’m keeping my word.”
Tuberville warned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in October to steer clear of a divisive abortion agenda at the Pentagon or face the prospect that military nominations wouldn’t receive a Senate vote.
Austin ignored the warning, announcing Feb. 16 that the Defense Department would provide three weeks of paid leave and reimbursement of travel expenses for military personnel and dependents who are seeking an abortion. The defense secretary attempted to justify the move by claiming it would protect “readiness of the force.”
The Pentagon’s new policy could lead to a massive increase in the annual number of abortions from approximately 20 to more than 4,000, according to an estimate from a Rand Corp. study. Tuberville maintains it’s also illegal, violating a prohibition on taxpayer-funded abortions.
Democrats ramped up their attacks on Tuberville in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., requested the Senate’s unanimous consent to approve the full slate of Pentagon promotions. Tuberville objected. Today, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., attempted to do the same. Tuberville refused to budge.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made an unfounded accusation that Tuberville was jeopardizing America’s security—a charge the Republican senator firmly rejected Wednesday.
“First of all, I’m not blocking anyone from being confirmed,” Tuberville said. “Every single one of these nominees can receive a vote if Sen. Schumer wants it. In fact, one of the civilian nominees is getting a vote this week. 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 too much to ask of the United States Senate to do its job—to vote.”
With the 100-member Senate so narrowly divided, and several lawmakers absent for health reasons, Democrats would prefer to approve the 184 pending military appointments and promotions as a group. Schumer could bring each nominee to the floor individually, as Tuberville noted, but doing so would be a laborious process for senators who typically prefer a short workweek.
Tuberville faced pushback not just from Democrats this week but also from Austin. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Austin asserted that the Senate’s failure to promote the generals would “impact on our readiness.”
“Not approving the recommendations for promotions actually creates a ripple effect through the force that makes us far less ready than we need to be,” Austin said. “The effects are cumulative and it will affect families. It will affect kids going to schools because they won’t be able to change their duty station.”
Austin’s comments didn’t persuade pro-life conservatives, who have rallied to Tuberville’s defense. In a statement Wednesday, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts called abortion a “barbaric and evil practice” that American tax dollars shouldn’t fund. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news outlet.)
“It takes courage to stand up to the Washington establishment, and that’s exactly what Sen. Tommy Tuberville is doing,” Roberts said. “The Heritage Foundation is proud to stand alongside him and asks all U.S. senators to do the same until the Defense Department’s radical abortion policy ends.”
Roberts was among the nearly two dozen pro-life leaders who signed a letter this month spearheaded by CatholicVote affirming support for Tuberville. Collectively, the leaders represent groups with millions of grassroots activists.
So far, Republicans have allowed Tuberville to maintain his hold on military generals, using it as leverage in their quest to force the Pentagon to change its new abortion policy.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is spearheading a separate effort along with 35 of her Senate Republican colleagues. She introduced legislation this month to halt the new policy. “The Pentagon should not be mobilized against the unborn. The Department of Defense exists to defend life, not destroy it,” Ernst said at the time.
Beginning in 1980 with passage of the Hyde Amendment, named for then-Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Congress has restricted use of federal funding to pay for abortions. Lawmakers have placed Hyde-like restrictions on funds available to the Defense Department as well.
Taxpayers favor such protections, too. A survey in January conducted by the Marist Poll and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus revealed that 54% of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.
The Biden administration has taken several steps to expand abortion access throughout the federal government since the Supreme Court’s ruling last June in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
In response to the court’s overturning Roe v. Wade, the Defense Department issued its Oct. 20 memorandum, “Ensuring Access to Reproductive Health Care,” promising easier access to abortion for U.S. military personnel.
The Pentagon outlined its next steps Feb. 16, allowing service members to have an abortion without being docked leave and also grant travel and transportation allowances to individuals who don’t live in an area with an abortion provider.
Rather than worry about the fate military generals, Tuberville said Democrats should instead be alarmed by the Biden administration’s politicization of the U.S. military, which is causing a recruiting crisis. Tuberville said:
“Democrats are in a panic about 184 promotions for generals and officers. Yet I have not heard a word from them about the 15,000 enlisted soldiers we’re missing right now from last year’s recruiting class. That’s an entire division. There’s another 8,600 who were discharged over the President’s vaccine mandate. Kicked out. I don’t hear a word about them from the Democrats. So, the military is down 23,000 enlisted soldiers due to the actions of the Biden administration and his secretary of defense just this past year. Yet Democrats are worried about 184 generals getting their promotions? Only one of those things threatens our security. It is not the officer promotions.”