Senator at Center of Military Promotion Delays Plans Vote to Undo VA Abortion Policy

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U.S. Senator for Alabama Tommy Tuberville.
U.S. Senator for Alabama Tommy Tuberville during a hearing on the fiscal 2023 Defense Authorization Request and the Future Years Defense Program at the SD-G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. March 8, 2022. (DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force TSgt. Jack Sanders)

A senator who is delaying military promotions over the Pentagon's abortion policy also expects to force a vote on the Department of Veterans Affairs' own policy in the coming weeks, he told Military.com.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said Thursday he is aiming to bring his resolution to reverse the VA's policy to the Senate floor in "the next five weeks" after the chamber returns from a recess that started Thursday afternoon. The Senate is on break until April 17, but has five weeks of work scheduled after that.

"That's kind of got lost in the shuffle," Tuberville said of his VA resolution amid the fight over the Pentagon policy. "The VA is not equipped for it, but they just threw it in there, and they've already started. So there's nothing I can do about it until we get it on the floor."

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The VA announced in September that for the first time the agency would offer abortions in cases of rape, incest or where the life or health of the mother is at risk from the pregnancy. The change was made in response to the June Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that allowed states to ban abortion.

Department officials have not disclosed how many abortions they have performed since the new policy was put in place, but did say weeks after the announcement that the first one had been performed.

In February, Tuberville and other Republicans introduced a resolution of disapproval against the VA's abortion policy under a mechanism that allows them to force a vote even though the upper chamber is controlled by Democrats.

That GOP resolution was introduced under the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which allows Congress to overturn actions the executive branch takes through the federal rulemaking process.

In order to force a vote in the Senate, at least 30 senators need to sign onto what's known as a "discharge petition." As of now, the resolution has 35 co-sponsors in the Senate.

While it's unclear if the resolution, which needs only a simple majority to advance, has the votes to pass in a Senate where Democrats hold 51 seats, at least one Democrat is already on record supporting it. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., signed on as a co-sponsor weeks after it was introduced.

Tuberville said he has not counted votes yet to know whether his measure will pass, but said he believes it has "some power behind it."

Republicans have used resolutions of disapproval to successfully disrupt efforts by Democrats and the Biden administration several times this year already. A resolution nixing D.C.'s rewrite of its century-old criminal code passed and was signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this month despite the White House initially saying the president opposed the GOP measure. This week, the Senate sent Biden a pair of resolutions to end the COVID-19 national emergency and to reverse waterway protections. Biden is expected to veto the water resolution but reportedly told senators he would not veto the COVID-19 resolution despite the White House previously saying he "strongly opposes" ending the national emergency earlier than his planned May 11 end date.

Tuberville's planning on his VA resolution comes as he has stoked the ire of Democrats and the Pentagon by preventing quick confirmations for about 160 nominees for promotion to one-star general and admiral and above over his opposition to the Defense Department's recently announced travel and leave policies for troops seeking abortions.

Democrats stepped up pressure on Tuberville to relent, but the impasse was not resolved before senators left town for a recess.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., who tore into Tuberville twice this week on the Senate floor and at Senate Democrats' weekly press conference, told Military.com he's hopeful the two-week break will allow senators to "sit back and think hard" about how to move forward on the promotions.

Tuberville suggested to reporters Thursday that a compromise could entail allowing a vote on the Pentagon policy. Still, he would not commit to dropping his holds even if he gets a vote, saying it "depends on what the vote was on." Unlike the VA policy that is a federal rule subject to the CRA, the Defense Department action was taken with a policy memo and so the CRA process to force a vote does not apply.

In the meantime, Tuberville brushed off the Democratic pressure.

"It's gotten a little hairy at times, but hey, I'm used to this," said Tuberville, who previously coached football at Auburn University. "I stood on the sidelines with people screaming and yelling at me, throwing beer bottles at me. I've had zero beer bottles thrown at me in the Senate."

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: GOP Relaunches Bid to End VA Abortion Policy

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