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Lone GOP Rep. Threatens Foundational Piece of Biden's Agenda - And He's Not Budging

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As more nominations for Department of Defense (DOD) senior officers stack up before the Senate, the White House is buckling down on a pressure campaign against Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville to lift his hold on nominations, but Tuberville refuses to budge.

On one side is Tuberville, who says he opposes abortion on principle and has blocked generals and admirals from promoting since at least March in protest of a DOD travel rule he believes undercuts the intent behind a law banning federal funding of abortions.

The other side of the argument consists of defense officials arguing that the hold on senior officer confirmations jeopardizes readiness and President Joe Biden himself, who has made abortion a cornerstone of his administration and would be risking his agenda by caving to Tuberville’s ploy.

“Of course it can also become a matter of who wields power; if the administration gives in, then Senators will see that Tuberville’s tactic was successful. If Tuberville relents, then he will have to somehow reconcile his absolute statements about holding the line. This is becoming a matter of political will for each side,” Dakota Wood, the senior research fellow in defense at the Heritage Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Tuberville wants the administration to walk back a policy that amounts to “taxpayer-funded abortions,” which are illegal except in rare circumstances, he told Punchbowl News in March.

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Biden lashed out at Tuberville’s “ridiculous” position at a press conference Thursday.

“He’s jeopardizing U.S. security by what he’s doing. I expect the Republican party to stand up, stand up and do something about it,” Biden said.

Biden is set to make abortion access a central tenet of his 2024 campaign, Politico reported, citing current and former administration and campaign staff, as red states crack down on the practice in a post-Roe America.

The administration believes securing abortion access will be a key marker of success and plans to pressure Congress to enshrine the expansive abortion regime that existed under Roe v. Wade into law.

Should Tuberville continue to hold the line?

Days after the Supreme Court handed down authority to regulate abortion back to the states in June 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin promised to protect abortion access for female servicemembers in accordance with federal law. Austin’s statement had sparked alarm for experts who worried that the Pentagon would seek to override federal and state law on abortion.

The secretary made official in February expanded leave permissions for female troops stationed in regions with strict abortion laws who may need to travel long distances out-of-state to obtain abortions. A concurrent policy ensured DOD would pay travel expenses related to seeking abortions for any reason and a few fertility procedures.

Tuberville maintains the policy blurs legal lines. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from covering abortions except in rare cases.

“Coach has said all along that ‘this is a two-way street.’ Sec. Austin could end this controversy today,” a Steven Stafford, a spokesperson for the senator, told the DCNF.

And, he refuses to lift his unilateral block on the now more than 260 senior officer promotions until Austin rolls back the February policy.

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While the Pentagon and the White House have argued that Tuberville’s holds are endangering national security, experts were skeptical.

“Lloyd Austin issued an order involving paid time off and travel subsidies to obtain abortions – a policy that appears to violate federal law. The power of publicity is evident in the fact that almost nothing that is said or written about the controversy mentions that Secretary Austin created the problem and the Biden Administration has the power to end it,” Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told the DCNF.

Wood doubted Tuberville’s hold would deeply impact military readiness or recruiting, as most troops or prospective servicemembers have bigger problems to worry about.

“The life of an unborn child, you know, as [Tuberville] has made his case, takes higher priority,” Wood said. Senators employ holds as leverage regularly, but they are “largely ignored by the public until it affects them personally,” he added.

Tuberville’s actions have also put him at odds with others in his own party.

However, in Congress, several top Republican leaders who oppose the Pentagon’s rule and abortion generally, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, have sought to distance themselves from Tuberville’s tactic, citing concerns over military readiness, The Hill reported.

“I think that the longer this drags on, the more problematic it becomes for the military to function and operate in the way that I think the American people expect them to operate. So I’m hoping something can be worked out here,” Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

The issue is “a matter of whether the President and his senior defense appointees conclude that this policy objective is more or less important than the impact Sen. Tuberville’s hold may be having on the military,” Wood told the DCNF.

Democrats and the Biden administration accuse Tuberville of hypocrisy, elevating his personal agenda over the health and well-being of the military and injecting uncertainty into the ranks, Politico reported.

Other watchers argue the Biden administration isn’t taking the fight seriously.

Now-retired Marine Corps Gen. Berger stepped down as Commandant of the Marine Corps on Monday, leaving the service without a confirmed commandant for the first time in more than a century. Such a vacancy breaks down the well-defined command chain of command that serves as the backbone of the military, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Stafford said the senator expects a floor vote on the Chairman, which would bypass the hold but could take several hours.

The hold also has trickle-down effects on families and lower-level officers awaiting changes to their ranks, grades and duty stations, Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Biden’s pick for Joint Chiefs chairman and one of the officers affected by the stay, told a Congressional panel at his confirmation hearing Tuesday. “We will lose talent because of these situations,” he added.

The policy adds “an additional and unnecessary level of stress in what is already a very stressful situation,” Luke Coffey, senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, told the Financial Times.

The White House did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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