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It has been widely reported that Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville is somehow single-handedly holding up all military nominations and promotions in the US Senate:

I understand the "why" (he objects to recently announced policies about abortion care for US service members), but I don't understand HOW he is doing it.

He's just a random GOP senator, right? He's not a key military committee chair or something? And he doesn't appear to have the support of other members of the GOP, either.

The above articles appear to say that (under normal circumstances), military promotions are "batched" and passed (all at once) by voice vote. But now with Tuberville objecting, it can't be done that way?

Why not? Do Senate voice votes have to be unanimous? Can't whomever is presiding state the obvious, that the 99 "yeah"s win over the one lone "nay"?

And even if you did have to switch from a voice to a roll call vote, why would that then mean you can no longer batch them together, you'd have to do full roll call votes for each of the hundreds of promotions individually?

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    That's a good clarification, @JohnDallman. So do we know at what rank promotions require Senate approval? How does that change the estimated 30k annual promotions in CDJB's answer?
    – BradC
    Aug 1, 2023 at 21:33
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    re. single-handedly, to be cynical, just because Tuberville is the face of this mess doesn't mean he doesn't have the, unrevealed, support of other Republicans congress folk: impeding the functioning of the armed forces in this fashion, even for abortion motivations, carries real political risk. Alabama is a safe seat, with 62% Trump vote in 2020 Aug 1, 2023 at 22:34
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    @BradC: Actually, I'm wrong: the granting of commissions to officers and the promotion of all commissioned officers requires Senate consent. Aug 1, 2023 at 22:40

2 Answers 2

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Just to expand a bit on Joe W's answer:- The Senate usually approves over 30,000 military promotions and appointments alone per year. Passing each nomination individually would eat up a lot of legislative time, so instead a Senator usually asks the Senate that the nominations be confirmed 'en bloc' - i.e. all together. Because this is not technically in order within the Senate rules, unanimous consent is required before this can proceed. One Senator - in this case Senator Tuberville - objecting is enough to force each name to be considered separately. Riddick's Senate Procedure states the following:

A motion to consider nominations on the Calendar en bloc is not in order; upon objection, the names must be considered separately.

You can see the procedure in action in the Senate section of the Congressional Record for May 10th:

Mr. BENNET.
Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the consideration of the following nominations en bloc: Calendar Nos. 46 through No. 52, No. 82 through No. 107, No. 110 through No. 113, No. 130 through No. 139; that the nominations be confirmed en bloc, the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate; that no further motions be in order to any of the nominations; that the President be immediately notified of the Senate’s action.

The PRESIDING OFFICER.
Is there objection?

Mr. TUBERVILLE.
Madam President, reserving the right.

That is enough to force the nominations to be considered individually, where they can be passed by a standard majority vote. It is the motion to batch the nominations that Tuberville is able to scupper, not the votes on the nominations themselves, as there is no way within the current Senate rules to vote to batch nominations by a simple majority vote.

To get around Tuberville's protest, each nomination needs to be considered one by one, which could take around two hours per nomination based on the Republican's use of the nuclear option in 2019 which shortened the maximum length of debate after a cloture vote on a nomination from thirty hours to two.

Alternatively, Senators could use Senate Rule V to vote to suspend the current Senate rules for a session in which they could pass the nominations en bloc (requiring a two-thirds vote) or change the Senate rules altogether to allow for en bloc votes on nominations. This last approach has been proposed in S.Res.219, which includes the following provision:

It shall be in order for the Majority Leader to move to proceed to the en bloc consideration of not more than 10 covered nominations that were reported to the Senate by the same committee of the Senate and placed on the calendar.

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    Ah, so its not just that you'd have to have individual votes for each service member (voice or roll call), which would take a long time even if you could do them back-to-back-to-back, but that each individual vote would be subject to all the debate/filibuster/cloture rules of any other bill. And presumably, if Tuberville is being obstructive about the batch vote, he could just as easily be obstructive on each individual vote by using all his available time to speak about his objections. And so, knowing all this, the senate hasn't attempted to hold those votes individually.
    – BradC
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:05
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    @BradC And it's kind of like the filibuster. You no longer have to have an actual debate where an opponent takes the floor forever. Just knowledge that you don't have enough votes to stop them is enough.
    – Barmar
    Aug 1, 2023 at 14:33
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    @BenMurphy For some reason, the current majority is hesitant to consider any changes to the Senate rules (the filibuster is the more prominent example). Tragically short-sighted, in my opinion.
    – BradC
    Aug 1, 2023 at 17:46
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    So, the way the way they were doing things before was a violation of Senate rules, but no one has the authority to enforce Senate rule other than Senators themselves, so if the Senate unanimously decides to ignore a rule, no one can call them on it? And thus anything that relies on ignoring the rules can be blocked by any one Senator objecting to the violation? Aug 1, 2023 at 23:32
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    @DohnJoe, at the fastest I've ever seen a Senate vote move, it would take roughly two and a half years of nonstop voting to approve a year's promotions one at a time.
    – Mark
    Aug 2, 2023 at 0:39
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He is using a "senatorial hold" to stop them though that is unlikely to be the only way he could hold them up.

Tuberville is showing how much power one lawmaker wields under Senate rules

Since February, the senator has been blocking every personnel move in the U.S. military that requires confirmation. Starting with a "senatorial hold" on what was then 150 personnel moves waiting for approval in batches, he is now up to at least 270 — and counting.

Senate hold

In the United States Senate, a hold is a parliamentary procedure permitted by the Standing Rules of the United States Senate which allows one or more Senators to prevent a motion from reaching a vote on the Senate floor.

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