Sen. Tommy Tuberville tries to flip political pressure of his anti-abortion crusade

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Tommy Tuberville has spent months blocking promotions at the Pentagon in protest to a new abortion policy but Wednesday seemed poised to try to force the Senate to vote on a key nominee — an effort to flip pressure onto Democrats after criticism from them and members of his own party.

Tuberville sought to force the Senate to confirm Gen. Eric Smith’s promotion to Marine Corps commandant on Wednesday afternoon, a Senate aide with knowledge of the plan told NBC News — implementing a combination of procedural and political gymnastics as Democrats and the White House paint his hold as endangering military readiness.

“Let’s go. It’s time to vote,” Tuberville posted on X Wednesday morning, captioning a photo of him signing a document known as a cloture petition.

Smith is currently serving in an acting capacity due to Tuberville’s blockade, leaving the Pentagon operating without a Senate-confirmed commandant for the first time in over 150 years.

But before Tuberville could act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer took to the floor to start the process of voting on three nominees — a move that appeared to try to blunt the Republican efforts.

"Senator Tuberville is essentially trying to make himself the gatekeeper of which officers are promoted and who sits and waits," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "Instead of just getting out of the way and allowing the Senate to approve the promotions that these decorated military officers deserve the senator from Alabama, unfortunately and wrongly is using them as pawns."

Tuberville's push to force the vote would seem to be at odds with the fact that he has been the one stopping confirmations, a blockade he said he would lift if the Pentagon reverses a policy meant to help military members access abortions if they have been stationed in a state that prohibits them.

The Alabama Republican on Tuesday said he doesn’t plan to lift his holds unless the Pentagon policy, which pays travel expenses for servicemembers who need to go out of state to have an abortion, is changed. “I’m not changing my mind,” he stressed.

The delays have irked Democrats and Republicans and become a White House talking point, which aims to paint congressional Republicans as unreasonable and unfit, or unwilling, to govern.

Tuberville and some members of his party have argued that if Democrats are so concerned about the national security risk, Schumer can call each of the hundreds of nominees up for a vote individually (normally, nominees would be approved in packages).

Tuberville cast Schumer’s move to bring up three nominees as a win, saying he won’t object to considering them.

“It’s about time,” he said. “I’ve been calling for that for months. ... I’m all for it. Individually, let’s get them done.”

“As long as we go through regular order, I’m good with it,” Tuberville continued. “I’ve been saying that for months. Now ... we’ve called them out, they blinked.”

Approving one by one would take up a significant amount of the Senate's time — amid a government funding fight and other key deadlines. Democrats have declined to vote on individual promotions on principal, as well, arguing that it would be ceding to Tuberville's demands.

But because Democrats won't hold individual votes, Republicans think they can turn the political pressure off the GOP and that forcing a vote on Smith's promotion will ultimately make Democrats look bad.

Schumer seemed to seek to blunt that strategy when he started the process on Wednesday to vote on Smith as well as Gen. CQ Brown to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Randy George to be Chief of Staff of the Army.

Tuberville secured 16 signatures on the petition to force a vote, the source detailed, utilizing a rarely invoked procedural tool.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul, of Kentucky; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; John Kennedy, of Louisiana; and Marco Rubio, of Florida, told NBC News on Tuesday they signed the petition. Republican Sens. JD Vance, of Ohio; Marsha Blackburn, of Tennessee; Eric Schmitt, of Missouri; and Ted Budd, of North Carolina also signed onto the cloture petition, their respective spokespeople confirmed. No member of Senate leadership signed the petition, according to the source with knowledge of the petition.

Schumer dismissed Tuberville's efforts as avoiding the real problem.

“This is a problem created by Republicans, and it’s up to them to solve,” Schumer said at a recent press conference.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has criticized Tuberville’s holds in the past, even calling them “a mistake.”

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