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Tuberville drops most military holds

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hundreds of military service members waiting for a promotion can breathe a sigh of relief today. Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville announced today he's lifted his monthslong hold on more than 400 nominations in a protest of a Pentagon policy about abortion.

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TOMMY TUBERVILLE: We didn't get as much out of it as we wanted. But, again, when they change the rules on you, I had no opportunity to - other than possibly down the road a lawsuit.

SHAPIRO: Change the rules on you. The Senate had been poised to pass a rare rules change just to end Tuberville's logjam. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is covering the story. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Catch us up on what triggered all of this and what Tuberville actually got for all of his effort.

GRISALES: He didn't get much. And this is exactly the point that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer raised while talking to reporters earlier today as he celebrated the news.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: He held out for many, many months, hurt our national security, caused discombobulation to so many military families who have been so dedicated to our country and didn't get anything that he wanted.

GRISALES: And the source of this grievance for Tuberville was this Pentagon policy that allowed service members who did seek abortion care to get financial support for related travel - so Schumer noting there that although Tuberville had this blockade for months, the change to this policy was not made. And as you heard Tuberville say at the top, perhaps a lawsuit is another recourse for him to try to sue and undo this plan.

SHAPIRO: Well, I said that there were hundreds of nominations and promotions on hold. Do you know exactly how many people are going to be affected as a result of this announcement?

GRISALES: Right. There will be many. He started this at the beginning of the year, so that resulted in more than 400 holds. Defense Department spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday that it was upwards of 455 nominations that were on hold currently. And if this blockade had continued, the Senate was on track, members said, to see that number grow to 650. But we should note that Tuberville did not lift all of his holds today. About 11 nominations for four-star generals and above must still be taken up separately. That is, they can't be approved in one fell swoop like these others that were lifted, these more than 400. Now, Ryder, the Pentagon official, said these are key senior leadership positions for these higher-ranking holds that we're seeing. That includes vice chiefs of several services, several commanders. And that includes the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet as well as the commander of U.S. Northern Command, Cyber Command and Space Command.

SHAPIRO: Why did Tuberville finally relent?

GRISALES: Well, he was facing immense pressure from inside his own conference. GOP colleagues wanted him to lift his hold, several of these colleagues Republican military veterans in the Senate. This includes Joni Ernst of Iowa. She's an ex-Army officer, a combat veteran. They took to the floor over several sessions, very long, hourslong debates and fights on the floor in the middle of the day, in the middle of the night, urging Tuberville to give this up. They kept telling him that the wrong people - service members were being punished for a policy they did not create. And then last month a Senate panel sent this rare resolution to the floor to change the rules to override Tuberville. So he was cornered. He had to make a decision on this or face this vote his colleagues did not want to take. But now they can move forward with these nominations that have been on hold instead.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.