By Joshua Arnold
The Washington Stand
By C-SPAN standards, Wednesday night’s Senate proceedings were a telenovela. The Associated Press called it an “extraordinary showdown.” NBC News nearly lapsed into poetry, “In a four-and-a-half-hour floor fight on Wednesday night ….” The knives were drawn, and Senate Republicans were out to get one of their own.
Five lieutenants of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set out to break Senator Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) hold on high-ranking military promotions, which he has maintained since February in response to the Pentagon’s illegal policy to reimburse servicemembers and their families for abortion-related travel. Tuberville has not obstructed votes on six individual nominees to fill top-level vacancies — in fact, he tried to force the Senate to hold the votes — but he has thrown sand in the gears of the Senate’s usual practice of confirming military promotions by unanimous consent, in batches of 50 or more.
Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) attempted to split the difference between holding a vote on every nominee — a time-consuming process — and voting through promotions in batches. They took turns calling for unanimous consent (UC) on promotions for 61 individual nominees.
(Here it’s worth clarifying how “unanimous consent” motions work. A member of the Senate can request unanimous consent on something — such as a bill or, in this case, a nomination — and, if no one says, “I object,” then it passes without a vote. It is designed only to streamline the passage of uncontroversial motions or measures, so it’s easy to block it — all a member has to do is say, “I object.” But it can also shield members from the consequences of an unpopular vote. Ordinary citizens may be shocked to learn that the world’s foremost “deliberative” body can conduct business without any deliberation at all, or even so much as a vote.)
To resume, these five senators aimed to force Tuberville to object to every single nomination — or they would break through his blockade and finally defeat his months-long hold on promotions.
Tuberville sat in the back of the chamber all evening and objected to every single UC request. One of the five senators would read off a nominee’s credentials and request unanimous consent to grant him or her a promotion. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who was presiding over the chamber, would ask if there were any objections. “Senator from Alabama,” she would recognize Tuberville. “Madam President, I object,” came his deep Southern drawl.
Again and again.
Over and over.