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Senate panel vote may open a path around Tuberville's block of military appointments

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville's long protest against Pentagon abortion policy, which has held up hundreds of military appointments, may soon come to an end. That's because the Senate Rules Committee plans to take a vote today that could open a path for those appointments to go through. Tuberville's Republican colleagues recently spoke out against his protest, saying it's hurting military morale. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott heard echoes of that argument when he spoke with some of Tuberville's constituents.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Montgomery, Ala., was recently named one of the nation's top five military defense communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED PERFORMANCE OF "THE MARINE'S HYMN")

GASSIOTT: It's home to Maxwell Air Force Base, so Veterans Day is a big deal. Every year, former Marine Darrin L. Harris looks forward to getting together with fellow vets on November 11 at the 11th hour.

DARRIN L HARRIS: And I'm always encouraged, always inspired to see other veterans, but most importantly, to see the community, to come behind veterans and to really understand what this actually means.

GASSIOTT: Harris is a member of a group called Veterans For Responsible Leadership. He's disappointed Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville has been blocking nearly all military nominations since February, which he says hurts military readiness.

HARRIS: Because we are seen all around the world as the No. 1 security force and military in the world, Tommy Tuberville's actions - or I should say inactions - have placed the world at risk.

GASSIOTT: Recently, Tuberville's colleagues in the Senate have also been expressing their disappointment.

RICHARD LEDET: The fact that other Republicans in the Senate are encouraging Senator Tuberville to back down, I think that's telling.

GASSIOTT: Richard Ledet is a political science professor at Troy University. He says Tuberville's actions may be working well for his conservative constituency in Alabama...

LEDET: But I'm not so sure that this is playing out in a positive manner for Republicans across the country. We've seen recently several states have given the choice to the voters, and voters have overwhelmingly supported women's health care.

GASSIOTT: Democrats scored big wins in recent state elections where abortion rights were an issue. John Wahl is the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. He says Republicans in Alabama don't have a problem with Tuberville's unyielding protest.

JOHN WAHL: They understand the fact that Tuberville's holds do not actually prevent the jobs from getting done. It just prevents salary increases or titles. And so there's not actually a heavy blowback.

GASSIOTT: But there is one sentiment he keeps hearing from those in the military.

WAHL: They don't want to pick a side. They don't want to be stuck in the middle of this.

GASSIOTT: Back at the Veterans Day celebration in Montgomery, I stopped to speak with James Pearson, who was in the Army for 29 years. He doesn't mince words when I ask him about the hold on military appointments.

JAMES PEARSON: Hate it.

GASSIOTT: He's frustrated with Tuberville and his Senate colleagues who he thinks should have acted sooner to end the blockade. But he's mostly concerned about morale.

PEARSON: Because he's holding up promotions for people that serve the military, and it's hurting them. You know, they dedicated their life to serve this country, and he's holding up their life for something that they had nothing to do with it.

GASSIOTT: And he's worried they'll leave the military if they feel their careers are going nowhere. A Senate committee is now acting to find a way around Tuberville's hold on military appointments. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "GOLDEN HILL") 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.

Kyle Gassiott