400 military officers were just promoted. Sen. Sullivan says the confirmation blockade shouldn’t have lasted so long.

a person speaks into a microphone
Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., lifted his hold on more than 400 military promotions Tuesday, backing off of a protest he launched 10 months ago against a Pentagon abortion policy.

Tuberville’s capitulation came after fellow Republican senators called him out publicly, saying he was damaging the military by blocking senior officers from leadership positions even as war rages in Europe and the Middle East.

Chief among those Republican critics was Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

“It’s such a dangerous world out there, and to not have our most capable officers in these important positions — that they have earned — was not good for our national security, wasn’t good for morale,” Sullivan said. “So I’m pleased this has been fixed.”

Sullivan sometimes imposes his own holds on military officers, but he said Tuberville’s were different because he blocked every military nomination and dug in for months.

The Pentagon adopted its new abortion policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Without the landmark case ensuring abortion rights, some states adopted partial abortion bans. The Pentagon, which stations troops in those states, now allows servicewomen time off to travel to get an abortion and will reimburse them for transportation and lodging. (Servicewomen still have to pay out of pocket for the procedure.)

Sullivan said he doesn’t like the policy any more than Tuberville does. But he said the policy is set by the civilian leadership of the Defense Department, not the uniformed officers who need Senate confirmation to do their jobs.

“These aren’t just, you know, your average federal government worker,” Sullivan said. “These are men and women who have signed a blank check with their lives for their country. They’re kind of special, in my view. Very special. Why are we punishing them over something they have nothing to do with?”

Tuberville only relented as Democratic leaders of the Senate started to enact a process that would nullify the holds. With his blockade over, the Senate confirmed more than 400 officers as it usually does — in a group, without a roll call vote, without objection.

Tuberville left in place a hold on about 11 nominations four-star generals, which the Senate will have to pass in a series of time-consuming votes.

Sullivan said he hopes that will happen before the Senate leaves for Christmas. Otherwise, those nominations would have to go back to the Armed Services Committee to start the process over.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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