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Former GOP Sen. disputes Tuberville’s claim that holds are precedented

His staff has worked to justify the block in numerous memos to reporters – including listing off seven other times senators held up promotions.
Sen. Tuberville calls his hold on Pentagon nominees precedented
Posted at 8:21 PM, Sep 08, 2023

It's been over six months since Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville first announced a hold on hundreds of high-level military promotions over the Biden Administration's military abortion policy. During that time, his staff has worked to justify the block in numerous memos to reporters, including listing off seven other times that senators have held up military promotions and high profile nominations.

But Scripps News found that key individuals involved in nearly all the instances cited by Tuberville's team reject the comparison.

"It's totally apples and oranges here," Retired Gen. Arnold Punaro told Scripps News.

The list stretches back from 1992 to as recently as this year. It cites senators from both sides of the aisle as threatening to, or blocking, Pentagon nominees for various reasons.

The first alleged precedent, from 1992, cites a decision by a bipartisan pair of senators to hold up military promotions over the Navy's Tailhook Scandal, an incident in which dozens of women were sexually assaulted by Navy and Marine aviators during a 1991 conference in Las Vegas.

Punaro recalls the situation well — he was the staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1983 until 1997.

"In terms of that scandal, you had hundreds of people that in were involved in misconduct, including some that committed criminal crimes of sexual assault," the retired general told Scripps News.

"The Committee felt like it needed to review each individual that was involved, and make sure they were cleared of any misconduct," Punaro said, adding of Tuberville, "It shows what a rookie he is."

The next precedent in the list of seven is from 1996, when then-Senator Arlen Specter "held hundreds of promotions in protest of [the] Secretary of Defense['s] refusal [to] answer questions about the nation's spy agencies."

"In general, it's correct that Senator Specter was not averse to using the hold power when he thought there was an important national interest involved," said Craig Snyder, who served as Specter's chief of staff in 1996.

"Specter was trying to get to the bottom of whether or not the Clinton Administration was properly responding to [Osama] Bin Laden," Snyder told Scripps of the late senator's 1996 hold.

SEE MORE: Impact of Alabama senator's hold on military promotions grows daily

"I don't know that you can compare that to this sort of, you know, culture war issue about abortion."

In six out of the seven instances listed, Scripps News spoke with aides, former staffers, and Tuberville's former Senate colleague, retired Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who served from 1987 until earlier this year — all of whom said the precedents don't stack up.

"I blocked a bunch of nominees but not generals and all that," Shelby told Scripps News by phone, "No. No."

Reached for comment, Sen. Tuberville's Communications Director Steven Stafford told Scripps News the instances detailed amounted to "opinions."

"It doesn't change the fact that plenty of Senators have held military nominations over the years, and that they usually have gotten what they wanted," Stafford told Scripps via email.

Though Congress has returned from the month-long August recess, the Pentagon's abortion policy is not expected to change, and Sen. Tuberville has dug in on his holds as "precedented" and "necessary" to force the Biden Administration's hand.

According to a spokesperson for the Senate Armed Services Committee, as of Friday, September 8, 273 senior military promotions remained stalled on the Senate floor.

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