‘Xi Jinping is loving this’: Republican showdown over military grips Senate floor

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Washington: Republican senators angrily challenged Senator Tommy Tuberville on his blockade of almost 400 military officers on Wednesday evening (Washington time), taking over the Senate floor for hours to call for individual confirmation votes after a monthslong stalemate.

Tuberville, a Republican, stood and objected over and over again, extending his holds on the military confirmations and promotions with no immediate resolution in sight.

Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville has blocked 400 confirmations.Credit: AP

But the extraordinary confrontation between Republicans, boiling over nine months after Tuberville first announced the holds over a Pentagon abortion policy, escalated the standoff as Defence Department officials have repeatedly said the backlog of officials needing confirmation could endanger national security.

Tuberville’s Republican rivals pointed out the national security implications of the delay in confirmations, with one senator claiming Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin would welcome such scenes of dysfunction in the US Senate.

“Why are we putting holds on war heroes?” asked Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, himself a colonel in the US Marine Corps Reserve. “I don’t understand.”

He added: “Xi Jinping is watching this right now going: ’I can’t believe they’re not letting these guys command. I’m scared to death of subs. He’s loving this. So is Putin. They’re loving it. How dumb can we be?”

Tuberville’s block comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine, Israel’s war with Hamas, and tensions in the South China Sea create a full set of challenges for the US and allies.

Sullivan said if the standoff continues and officers leave the military, Tuberville’s blockade will be remembered as a “national security suicide mission”.

South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham told Tuberville, who mostly sat quiet and alone as they talked, that he should sue the military if he thinks the policy is illegal. “That’s how you handle these things,” Graham said.

After Tuberville objected to a vote on a two-star general nominated to be a deputy commander in the Air Force, Graham turned and faced him. “You just denied this lady a promotion,” Graham said angrily to Tuberville. “You did that.”

Tuberville said on Wednesday there is “zero chance” he will drop the holds.

Despite several high-level vacancies and the growing backlog of nominations, he has said he will continue to hold the nominees up unless the Pentagon ends — or puts to a vote in Congress — its new policy of paying for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care.

President Joe Biden’s administration instituted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion, and some states have limited or banned the procedure.

“I cannot simply sit idly by while the Biden administration injects politics in our military from the White House and spends taxpayers’ dollars on abortion,” Tuberville said.

Showing obvious frustration and frequent flashes of anger, the Republican senators — Sullivan, Graham, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, Indiana Senator Todd Young and others — read lengthy biographies and praised individual nominees as they called for vote after vote.

They said they agree with Tuberville on the policy, but questioned — as Democrats have for months — why he would hold up the highest ranks of the US military.

Sullivan said Tuberville is “100 percent wrong” that his holds are not affecting military readiness.

Ernst said the nominees are being used as “political pawns.” Utah Senator Mitt Romney advised Tuberville to try to negotiate an end to the standoff. All of them warned that good people would leave military service if the blockade continues.

As the night wore on, Sullivan and Ernst — herself a former commander in the US Army Reserve and Iowa Army National Guard — continued to bring up new nominations and appeared to become increasingly frustrated.

They noted that they were bringing up the nominations “one by one” as Tuberville had once called for, and asked why he wouldn’t allow them to go forward. Tuberville did not answer.

“We all know it is wrong,” Sullivan said about three hours in, openly wondering if Tuberville might eventually change his mind. “It is wrong!”

The impasse in the Senate comes a month after the House of Representatives was plunged into crisis, when Kevin McCarthy was dumped as Speaker by Republican extremists, creating a bruising intraparty war in which the business of the chamber was halted.

After 22 days of paralysis, four nominees and days of backroom wrangling, Mike Johnson was voted in by Republicans as House Speaker.


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