Kyrsten Sinema Says Biden Should Find ‘Middle Ground’ With Tommy Tuberville on Abortion Stand-Off

Sinema thinks the White House needs to compromise with the Alabama senator holding up hundreds of military promotions over an abortion travel policy.

Kyrsten Sinema Says Biden Should Find ‘Middle Ground’ With Tommy Tuberville on Abortion Stand-Off
Photo:Win McNamee (Getty Images)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) says she “volunteered” to find a “middle ground” between President Joe Biden and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), whose five month long standoff against military promotions has left three military branches without confirmed leaders. “We’ll see if they take me up on the offer,” the former Democrat told a meeting of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce last week, first reported by NBC News.

Sinema, who along with her Senate colleagues, is on August recess visiting their home states. “I know that Coach does not want to undermine the readiness of our U.S. military,” Sinema said, referring Tuberville by his old job title (he coached Auburn football). “And I know that the United States military and the administration does not want to undermine the authority and the right of any United States senator. What we need are for folks to step off a little bit from their positions and find that middle ground to solve the challenge that we’re facing.”

The challenge we’re facing is that the archaic rules of the Senate have allowed one (1) man to hold up hundreds of military promotions on a misogynist whim. In February, the Pentagon announced it would reimburse service members and dependents for costs associated with traveling for an abortion as well as paid time off. The policy was specifically crafted to avoid the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from going to abortion provision. By March, Tuberville was hijacking the military promotion process.

At a certain employment level, after a military promotion is recommended (or a Joint Chief of Staff is nominated), the promotion must be approved by the Senate. Because there are a glut of promotions to get through and because the Senate procedures are complex, these batches of promotions are approved via unanimous consent. As you may have inferred from the name “unanimous” and how many times I’ve written “one goddamn man is holding up the process,” unanimous consent only works if everyone agrees. Tuberville doesn’t agree, so he objects, stymieing any promotions.

“What we’re in is a position of pain — we’re in a pinch point right now,” Sinema told the group, according to NBC News. “Coach wants something the military and the administration is not willing to give him. But it would be a mistake to take away that tool from a United States senator because it is an important tool to address unmet needs.”

There is literally no reason for Sinema to have waded into this dispute, which frankly at this point is a Republican Party issue. Multiple high-ranking GOPers have voiced their discomfort for Tuberville’s tactics, including House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but no one has stopped him. Still, Sinema thinks she can be the “solution” to this problem by blaming the commander-in-chief for not being flexible enough, because she fancies herself a real John McCain-style “maverick.”

“So what I’m encouraging both Coach and the administration to do is to be flexible in finding a solution,” Sinema said. “There is always a solution to be had. It may not be everything the Coach wants. And it may not be everything that the United States military or the administration wants. But there is a solution to be found. And so what I have offered to both Coach and to the administration is to help in any way that I can to help find that solution, because it does exist. It always exists.”

The solution that exists is Tuberville to stop. As someone who has been writing and reporting about this for the last five months, something is getting lost in the sauce: At its core, the Pentagon is an employer. A massive employer with unique cultural history, but an employer nonetheless. Pentagon employees do not choose where they are stationed. Anywhere from 5,000 to 7,4000 active-duty members or civilians employed by the Defense Department have abortions each year, per the RAND Corporation. The travel policy announced in February was in response to a ultraconservative Supreme Court overturning federal protection to abortion. Because of that decision, 40 percent of active-duty female service members now live in areas where abortion care is outright unavailable or severely restricted. Nearly a fifth of the entire active duty population are forced to live in areas where their bodily autonomy is not respected.

The Defense Department, to its small credit, has held firm. The policy will not be changed, Department of Defense spokesperson Sabrina Singh said on Tuesday. “No, we’re not going to change our policy on ensuring that every single service member has equitable access to reproductive health care,” Singh told reporters. “If you are a service member stationed in a state that has rolled back or restricted health care access, you are often stationed there because you were assigned there. It is not that you chose to go there. And so a service member in Alabama deserves to have the same access to health care as a service member in California, as a service member stationed in Korea.”

Singh reiterated that it’s not an abortion policy. “It’s not a abortion policy. We have a travel policy that allows for our service members to take advantage of health care that should be accessible to them,” Singh said. (Should this policy have been instituted years ago when Alabama was severely curtailing abortion rights is a different story for another day!)

Hilariously, NBC News reported that Tuberville “has not spoken to Sinema” about the travel policy. So she’s truly just trying to maintain relevancy as a tough re-election season starts.

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