Facing GOP pressure, Tommy Tuberville says all the wrong things

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Facing GOP pressure, Tommy Tuberville says all the wrong things

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For months, Sen. Tommy Tuberville has imposed an unprecedented blockade on confirming U.S. military leaders. And for months, the Alabama Republican said he felt “zero“ pressure from his GOP colleagues to be more responsible.

This week, all of that changed rather dramatically. On Wednesday night, several Senate Republicans spent several hours on the chamber floor, trying to confirm qualified military nominees. In each instance — 61 times in all — Tuberville refused.

While we generally expect to see GOP members attacking Democrats, and not one of their own, Wednesday night offered a striking exception. Republicans accused Tuberville of, among other things, being dishonest, damaging the military during international crises, assisting U.S. adversaries abroad, and relying on tactics that are “ridiculous” and “dumb.”

The morning after, the right-wing Alabaman told reporters that the criticisms from his ostensible partisan allies were “a little character assassination at times.”

But that’s not all he said.

Those hoping that the pushback from Senate Republicans might cause Tuberville to come to his senses quickly learned otherwise. He insisted that his blockade would continue, brushing off concerns raised by both parties, military leaders, veterans and their families, and every living former Defense secretary. He said he didn’t much care about military leaders having to work two jobs simultaneously. He said his crusade is intended to “get their attention,” as if the Pentagon weren’t already well aware of the damage the GOP senator is doing.

There was one quote, however, that struck me as especially important: “I’m a football coach,” Tuberville said. “I’m not a lawyer.”

It was a simple, eight-word quote, but it was one of the more important things the Alabaman has said about the mess he created.

At its core, Tuberville is undermining his own country’s military because of his opposition to a single policy. After the demise of Roe v. Wade, the Biden administration’s Pentagon agreed to provide of travel reimbursements for troops in need of reproductive care. Tuberville has said this policy is illegal, arguing that he’ll continue to damage the armed forces until these benefits for U.S. troops are eliminated.

But all along, the coach-turned-politician, who has no legal background, has had an alternative course: If Tuberville believes the Defense Department’s policy is illegal, he can file litigation and take the matter to court. Who knows, he might even get a Trump-appointed judge who’d take the case seriously.

Asked yesterday why he doesn’t simply pursue such a course, the Republican said he’s “a football coach,” and “not a lawyer.”

But Tuberville can’t — or at least, shouldn’t — have it both ways. As things stand the Alabama senator is now pushing two lines simultaneously, effectively saying:

  1. My legal expertise has led me to conclude that travel reimbursements for U.S. troops are illegal.
  2. I have no legal expertise — I am a mere football coach who somehow ended up in the Senate — so don’t expect me to take my legal concerns to the courts.

Against the backdrop of this obviously contradictory posture, a growing bipartisan contingent of senators are moving forward with plans to circumvent Tuberville’s blockade. The Alabaman’s office, meanwhile, reportedly reached out to anti-abortion groups, floating primary GOP challengers for senators who end up supporting the plan to go around him.

Watch this space.

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”

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