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2024 Election

Biden White House goes after Republicans over Tuberville's military blockade

A new White House memo paints the GOP as complicit in the Alabama senator's tactic to put a hold on promotions for military officers in protest of a Pentagon abortion policy.
Tommy Tuberville during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on June 8.Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call via AP file

WASHINGTON — The White House is amping up pressure on Republicans over Sen. Tommy Tuberville's blockade on hundreds of promotions for military officers, apparently seeking to make the GOP pay a price with voters if he persists, according to a new memo first obtained by NBC News.

In the memo addressed to "Interested parties," the White House dials up the rhetoric against Tuberville, R-Ala., and paints the Republican Party more broadly as enablers of his effort, accusing it of mounting "barely a word of protest."

"Right now, a Republican Senator is choosing to erode military readiness and abuse military families in the pursuit of an unrelated and extreme anti-freedom agenda — with barely a sound from his GOP colleagues," White House communications adviser Andrew Bates wrote in the memo, dated Thursday.

He added that the blockade is "exploiting service members as pawns," hurting military readiness and risking a "brain-drain" from the Defense Department. "He’s even subjecting the families who serve with members to excruciating uncertainty, like not knowing where children will go to school or where spouses can work."

"These actions go beyond substantive party differences and are flatly against basic American principles. Yet this is taking place with barely a word of protest from Tuberville’s Republican colleagues," Bates wrote.

The memo, titled "mainstream results over division, extremes, and chaos," provides a window into how President Joe Biden is framing the contrast between his White House and his Republican opposition. While Biden is ramping up his 2024 re-election campaign using similar arguments against the GOP, the White House is casting Tuberville's blockade in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy as a national security issue, and it will "continue to highlight the real-time damage this is doing," an aide said.

Asked Thursday about the issue on a trip to Finland, Biden called Tuberville's position "ridiculous" and said he was "jeopardizing U.S. security."

“I expect the Republican Party to stand up — stand up — and do something about it. It’s in their power to do that,” Biden said.

Asked to comment, the Biden re-election campaign referred NBC News to the White House.

Tuberville remained unchastened by the blowback Thursday, saying in an interview that he won't back down until the Pentagon rescinds its policy of covering the travel costs for service members who leave their states to get abortions.

“If I’d have been president, I’d call me a long time ago," Tuberville said. "I understand we’ve got a lot of problems in this country. We got a lot of foreign problems, and, and he got — that’s a hard job. I can’t imagine doing that. So, you know, he got pretty, pretty fired up about me and on foreign soil. I wish he hadn’t done that.”

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have objected to Tuberville's tactics, although they agree with his policy goal on abortion. But Tuberville isn't feeling the heat: He said he has faced "zero" pressure from his party to back off his blockade.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who represents a district Biden won in 2020, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should sit down with Tuberville and work out a compromise.

"Why can't the secretary sit down with Senator Tuberville?" Bacon said. "It's not that hard."

Austin and Tuberville spoke Thursday afternoon, according to spokespeople for both men.