This week in Washington: Military promotions blockade over abortion, Israel-Hamas ceasefire pray-in

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- Long-simmering tensions between Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and his fellow Senate Republicans spilled into the open Nov. 1, as they challenged his blockade on the confirmations of senior military nominees over the Pentagon's abortion policy.

Republican senators voiced frustrations with Tuberville on his blockade of nearly 400 military officers, bringing individual nominees up for a vote during a four-hour window to call for individual confirmation votes after a monthslong blockade.

Since March 8, Tuberville has blocked nominations by denying the Senate the ability to confirm nominees through unanimous consent, a procedure in which the Senate considers a matter agreed to if no senator objects. Any one senator can block that process. Such military nominations are generally approved by unanimous consent rather than through individual votes.

Tuberville has used the Senate procedure to block military promotions in protest of the Pentagon's abortion policy along with criticisms of what he calls the military's "woke politics." He has come under criticism from not only the White House and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for doing so, but also from members of his own party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has previously stated he does not support Tuberville's blockade.

In Nov. 1 remarks on the Senate floor, Tuberville said, "Let me explain why I'm doing this -- how we got here and where we go from here."

"Nine months ago, the Pentagon announced by memo that they would start using our taxpayer dollars to facilitate abortion," he said. "The Pentagon is now paying for travel and extra time off for service members and their dependents to get abortions. Congress never voted for this. We also never appropriated the money for this. There is no law that allows them to do this."

"There is a law that says they can't do this -- created in this room," he added, arguing "the only time the Pentagon can spend taxpayer dollars on abortion is in cases of rape, incest and threat to the health of the mom."

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, both a veteran and a former military spouse, argued that the blockade disrespects service members and their families more than it challenges the abortion policy. In remarks on the Senate floor, Ernst argued the blockade has left families in limbo, stuck in temporary housing, paying for storage out of their own pockets, or unable to enroll children in school or for spouses to seek new employment in their new assigned location.

Ernst, who is pro-life, argued the Pentagon's abortion policy should be challenged in court rather than holding up crucial and earned military confirmations.

But Politico reported that Tuberville's office asked pro-life groups to "make clear" to GOP senators that they risk primary challenges if they do not back his effort.

Asked by a Capitol Hill reporter why he doesn't take his challenge over the policy to court, Tuberville replied, "I'm a football coach. I'm not a lawyer."

Also in Washington the same week, a group of Catholics protested near Lafayette Park outside the White House to call on President Joe Biden, a Catholic, to de-escalate hostilities between Israel and Hamas through a ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

"Franciscans have an 800-year history of ministering to the peoples of the Holy Land and our hearts are broken by their intense suffering," Michele Dunne, executive director of Franciscan Action Network, said in a statement. "We call on President Biden to ensure that the United States does everything it can to end the violence there and nothing to prolong it."

- - -Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.