Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville said Thursday he is not backing down after his fiery battle with Republican colleagues on the Senate floor over his unprecedented move to hold up hundreds of military nominations and promotions.
Senate Republicans, led by Sens. Dan Sullivan and Joni Ernst, on Wednesday night angrily challenged Tuberville in an all out Republican-on-Republican brawl on the floor, during which they held the floor for more than four hours as they repeatedly tried and repeatedly failed to get Tuberville to cave on his military holds -- his attempt to change Pentagon abortion policy. Republicans brought 61 military nominees up for individual consideration on the Senate floor Wednesday night. Tuberville spiked every single one.
The Senate on Thursday did confirm three military nominees using a process to circumvent Tuberville's hold. The process to confirm the nominees was underway before Wednesday's drama on the Senate floor. The Senate confirmed Lisa Franchetti to be Chief of Naval Operations, Gen. David W. Allvin to be Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Lt. Gen Christopher J. Mahoney to be Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps.
On Thursday, Tuberville doubled down, saying he "works for the American people" and speculated that many don't want their money to go toward service members' abortions. Tuberville has been holding military nominees for months over objection to a Department of Defense policy that allows service members to receive compensation to travel out of state for abortion, asserting that it is taxpayer-funded abortion and a violation of the Constitution.
"I've told you all along -- I hate I have to do this, but somebody has got to listen to us. I work for the people of this country; I don't work for another senator or a president -- I work for the tax payers of this country," he said at the Capitol Thursday.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuberville's actions are allowing for vacancies that are "causing damage to our military readiness."
"The world is too dangerous to play political games with our military," she said during Thursday's White House press briefing.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in Thursday's White House press briefing that Tuberville's moves are "beyond ridiculous" and listed some of the crucial military positions that are vacant as a result of Tuberville's blockade.
Tuberville has maintained that his hold does not impact troop readiness.
ABC Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott asked Tuberville what his message was to his Republican colleagues who say that he's weakening the military by continuing to block confirmation of generals.
"They're wrong -- we've been doing this nine months, all of a sudden it's an emergency," Tuberville told Scott. "We tend to drag our feet around a little bit, so I don't agree."
Tuberville was clear he will not be changing his position on military nominees despite growing frustration among his GOP colleagues about his methods. Scott asked him if he would consider budging, he was blunt: "No."
Republicans were out in full force Thursday airing their frustration with Tuberville.
"Well I'm frustrated on behalf of the force," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "The effect on the force is real, people are losing their slot ... and the ripple effect is going to the lower ranks."
'It needs to change'
On Wednesday, Sullivan was defiant, sarcastic and even sullen in his pleas to Tuberville. At times, Sullivan was livid. One after one, Republicans raised specific military nominees, reading off impressive lists of credentials and then asking for consent for their confirmation. One after one, Tuberville stood on the floor and blocked them.
"As a U.S. Marine Corps colonel, I know we all know here in the Senate, America needs to have our best players, most combat-capable leaders on the field, and right now that's not happening," Sullivan said. "It needs to change."
The Republican senators who challenged Tuberville Wednesday night were especially frustrated that the Alabama senator blocked the nominees as they were being brought up individually. For months, Tuberville has blocked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer from advancing military nominees en bloc, but Tuberville had previously said he wouldn't object to votes on individual nominees.
"We have done the best we can to honor the request of a fellow senator that these nominations be brought to the floor and voted on individually," Ernst said. "I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honor their word."
While unanimous confirmation requisitions like the ones made Wednesday night aren't quite the same as individual Senate votes, which could in theory take several days to clear, Senate Republicans hoped this tactic would be the dam break they needed.
It wasn't. Tuberville blocked every single nominee.
"I cannot simply sit idly by while the Biden administration injects politics in our military from the White House and spends taxpayer dollars on abortion," Tuberville said on the floor.
Wednesday night's debacle was a rare moment of Republican infighting on full display on the Senate floor, and speaks to the palpable frustration the Republican conference has with Tuberville for his nine-month blockade.
Ernst, leaving the floor at the end of the night warned that Tuberville's move Wednesday night would have consequences: "This will be remembered. This will be a dark evening," Ernst said.
It's not expected to be the last either. After trying and failing to confirm the 61st military officer of the evening, Sullivan vowed he would continue his efforts to bring nominees up for individual consideration.
"My message to our generals and admirals who are being held up: hang in there. Some of us have your back -- we have your back, we will be coming here every night to try to get you guys confirmed," Sullivan said.
"...You deserve it and our nation has to have it," Sullivan added.
Sen. Jack Reed, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has for months been trying to find a way around Tuberville's hold, was presiding over the chamber when Sullivan concluded his remarks for the night. He later called Tuberville's unwillingness to allow nominees to be confirmed an act of "willful ignorance or stubborn hubris.
"After tonight, one has to wonder why Senator Tuberville persists in his obstruction, which only benefits America's enemies," Reed said in a statement. "Over the last ten months Senator Tuberville has undermined our military readiness and callously mistreated military families."
Reed applauded the Republican senators who tried to get nominees confirmed Wednesday night.
Most of Tuberville's Republican colleagues have said they agree with his position on the Pentagon's abortion policy, but not his tactics.
"I'm as pro-life as they come, I strongly disagree with what Secretary [Lloyd] Austin and President [Joe] Biden have done with their politicization of the military on a whole host of fronts including the abortion policy," Sullivan said.
But Republicans are fed up with Tuberville's blockade on nominees, who they say should not be punished for the policy decisions of the administration.
"Our service members have been failed by their commander in chief and we must do right by them and the security and protection of our own nation," Ernst said.
Kennedy: Senate rule change could be a 'double-edged sword'
Senate Majority Leader Schumer Schumer earlier Wednesday announced intentions to support a Reed-authored proposal that would allow the Senate to temporarily circumvent Tuberville's hold and to confirm the more than 300 nominees Tuberville is now preventing from going through.
Details of that resolution aren't quite clear yet, and it will need to go through the Senate Rules Committee to determine the threshold of votes it would need to pass.
The Thursday confirmations are part of a procedural tool to force votes on individual nominees. Schumer had been reluctant to use this tool to overcome Tuberville's holds over the last nine months because he's argued it risks playing to Tuberville's hand and politicizing the military.
Even as frustration mounts with Senate Republicans, most ABC News spoke to Thursday morning are pushing back on a growing effort by Democrats to pass the temporary change to the Senate rules.
Senate Republicans have been resistant in recent years to any sort of modification to the rules. This move, they say, would weaken the individual power of each senator. Rules that allow senators to hold certain nominees or policies make the chamber distinctly unique from the House.
Republicans warned on Thursday that if Democrats try to circumvent Tuberville by modifying the chamber rules, it could backfire on them down the line.
"I think it would be an extraordinary mistake to change the rules on holds, and that I would remind my Democratic colleagues that's a double-edged sword," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said.
Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., all said they would also reject efforts to skirt the rule on nominee confirmation.
"I'm pretty reluctant to change the rules ..." Hawley said. "If we're going to change the rules, if we are going to depart from the tradition that we leave the rules as they are, then I have a whole bunch of rules I'd like to see changed so if we're going to do that, I'll have my own thoughts about what other rules we'd like to change."
Schumer has been clear he will support it, and advance it to the Senate floor.