Tuberville’s tantrum ends as Senate confirms military promotions

The Senate wrapped up 2023 with a win Tuesday when Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville finally ended his tantrum and allowed the Senate to confirm the last of the military promotions he’d been blocked since February. It didn’t even take a fight at the end, or major concessions to Tuberville. He just caved. All 11 of the remaining four-star officers, including the leaders of major combatant command and vice chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Space Operations, were approved by a single voice vote.

Tuberville imposed the blanket hold on military promotions to protest a Pentagon policy that allows paid leave for service members to travel out of state for abortions. By early December, when he dropped his opposition to the lower-ranking officer promotions, around 450 officers’ lives had been thrown into limbo as their reassignments were on hold. He refused to relent on the final 11 simply because he could.

Tuberville may have relented because he didn’t have much backup available: A third of the Senate didn’t bother to show up to work Tuesday. By the time they got to the last vote of the year, confirming Elizabeth Richard to be coordinator for counterterrorism, 33 Republicans had skipped town.

Those absences limited what Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could get done on the floor, so after those and a handful of other nominations, they passed a temporary reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration by voice vote and left for the year. That FAA bill was the last bill that had a hard deadline of Dec. 30. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado had placed a hold on it in hopes that that would spur Republicans to relent on funding aid to Ukraine.

Convinced he at least forced senators to return to work trying to negotiate that Ukraine package, Bennet lifted his objection. “I don’t think we would have come back, probably, from our departure last week if we didn’t have the unfinished business of the FAA to do,” Bennet said Tuesday night. “And while the FAA is unrelated to the Ukraine funding … It was something that could force us to come back here to continue to have the debate.”

That leaves undone the most urgent issue: continuing U.S. support for Ukraine, which Republicans have been holding hostage to extract major immigration policy changes. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rare joint statement Tuesday, saying that negotiators had made “encouraging progress” and that the Senate would act on it “early in the new year.”

“Challenging issues remain, but we are committed to addressing needs at the southern border and to helping allies and partners confront serious threats in Israel, Ukraine and the Indo-Pacific,” the statement read. “The Senate will not let these national security challenges go unanswered.”

Congress is also going to have to meet the challenge of funding the government early in the new year. The current stopgap funding bill sets two deadlines, with funding for military and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing expiring on Jan. 19. For the rest of the agencies—including State, Justice, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, and other departments—it ends Feb. 2.

They better all rest up and enjoy the good cheer of the season, because January is going to be ugly.

RELATED STORIES:

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It’s official: GOP House did a whole lot of nothing this year

GOP senators try to torpedo Ukraine aid talks with Democrats

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