Republican US senator continues abortion-related holds on military nominees

U.S. Senator Tuberville speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville said on Tuesday he would continue his blockade of hundreds of military promotions over the Defense Department's abortion policy, but was nearing some compromises including allowing promotions of essential nominees.

Tuberville, a first-term senator closely aligned with former Republican President Donald Trump, has been blocking quick confirmation of high-level military promotions since February to protest the Pentagon's policy of covering travel costs for abortions for service members and their dependents.

He emerged from a two-hour meeting of Republican senators and said his "hold" would remain in place, but he might allow promotions for "people who really need to be promoted."

Tuberville said Republicans planned to meet again and consider options including unspecified lawsuits and overturning the Pentagon policy in a larger defense bill. That would face opposition from Democrats and could prompt a veto from Democratic President Joe Biden.

"Hopefully we can work through this and get something done in a short period of time," Tuberville told reporters.

Under Senate rules, one lawmaker can hold up nominations even if the other 99 all want them to move quickly. Tuberville's blockade has faced opposition from some Republicans as well as Democrats, who say he should make his point on a policy matter by targeting nominees involved with policy.

The Pentagon says 450 officers have been affected by the holds. Military leaders say the logjam has harmed national security by leaving key positions empty and making it more difficult to recruit and retain troops.

Tuberville's blockade ended decades in which the Senate has routinely approved large numbers of military promotions at once. He has argued that the Senate could sidestep his action by approving one promotion at a time, a process that would take months.

Democrats are working on a resolution that would temporarily change Senate rules to allow votes on multiple military nominations, through the end of next year. However, that resolution needs 60 votes - from nine Republicans as well as every Democratic caucus member - to pass.

Several states have limited abortion access since the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a constitutional right to abortion was overturned last year. The argument in favor of funding travel is that women service members should not be denied access to abortion services because they cannot choose where they are stationed.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)