Military families, retired service members lobby to end Tuberville’s blockade

FAN Editor

Washington — For veterans service organizations and military community and family support groups, the well-worn playbook for lobbying and advocacy isn’t working this time with Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. 

“He’s put his foot down, so we’ve moved on. We’re not focused on Sen. Tuberville anymore,” said Besa Pinchotti, who runs the National Military Family Association, a group which represents military families.  

“We’re focused on moving these promotions forward in another way,” added Pinchotti, whose husband is a retired Marine Corps veteran.

“Frankly, yes,” Mary Kaszynski, head of government relations for the VoteVets political action group told CBS News when asked if her advocacy organization has ceased efforts to directly lobby Tuberville. 

 “We’re now (focused) on the others around Sen. Tuberville in the Republican caucus and Republican donors,” Kaszynski added.

Tuberville is waging an unprecedented campaign to try to change the Pentagon’s abortion policy, which allows for travel expenses and time off for members who need to travel for abortion services. 

He is employing maneuvers to hold up hundreds of military nominations and promotions, forcing less experienced leaders into top jobs, and raising concerns at the Pentagon about military readiness.

Senators in both parties — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — have pushed back on Tuberville’s blockade, but Tuberville is dug in. He says he won’t drop the holds unless Senate Democrats allow a vote on the policy.

His unprecedented efforts have resulted in an unprecedented lobbying campaign by interest groups who support military members. But the growing and sweeping political advocacy campaign has yet to sufficiently break through. 

A review by CBS News found veterans and military support groups have unleashed TV ads blistering Tuberville, worked to galvanize home state pressure in Alabama, launched petition drives — one of which has yielded 10,000 signatures opposing his tactics — arranged a fly-in of retired generals to advocate personally on Capitol Hill, and unveiled a letter-writing campaign from military members.

“It’s by far the biggest campaign we’ve ever done,” said Kate Marsh Lord, a spokeswoman for the Secure Families Initiative, a nonpartisan advocacy group for military spouses.

Veterans and military family groups have blasted Tuberville’s hold on military confirmations, arguing it is putting strain and stress on military families.

In a letter shared with Senate leaders last month, the National Military Family Association wrote: “The effects of this holdup are broader than just the nominations themselves — with each nomination are military families navigating stalled moves, military kids unable to settle into new schools, military spouses unable to look for new jobs, and the next generation of service members are watching.”

The advocates acknowledge these traditional tools — including the letters, petitions and ads — aren’t yet moving the meter on a pernicious type of gridlock in which one singular member of Congress is causing the impasse.

As the stalemate persists, some organizations have attempted untraditional techniques. In a TikTok video recorded in July, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America chief executive officer Alison Jaslow confronted Tuberville in a hallway on Capitol Hill. 

“You’re holding up people’s pay raises and promotions,” Jaslow told Tuberville in the recording near a bank of elevators as Tuberville walked down a hallway.  

The Secure Families Initiative took to Instagram to urge followers to call members of the Senate Rules Committee, urging them to support a proposal under consideration next week to employ legislation to break the stalemate. 

VoteVets has shared selfie videos from retired military leaders. In one social media post, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Hal Donahue said of Tuberville: “He is undermining our military. Who has Sen. Tuberville’s loyalty? It most certainly is not our nation or our troops.”  

Kaszynski said the VoteVets campaign to bring retired generals to meet with senators contributed to a breakthrough last week, in which some Republican Senators challenged and blasted Tuberville in floor speeches.  

“The response from Republicans was tremendously positive,” Kaszynski said. “They took every nearly every meeting request that we made. I think we saw this with what happened with the Republican senators on the floor.”

The organization also collected thousands of signatures for an online petition titled “Tell Tommy Tuberville to Stand Down.”

The Secure Families Initiative has also sought to galvanize pressure inside Alabama. Lloyd told CBS News that it has “gathered small groups of military-affiliated people in Alabama several times to brainstorm and to network. We try and put pressure more directly from inside the state.”

The group also launched its own online petition in which it argues that “it is widely known that the military is facing challenges to recruitment and retention. Politicizing and disrupting promotions and employment packages, attacking diversity and inclusion programs, and blatant politicization of military service policies compounds this problem and sends a message to female servicemembers (who make up over 17% of our active duty force) and servicemembers of color (who make up 40% of the active duty force) that they are not welcome.”

Pinchotti told CBS News her group, the National Military Family Association, is also advocating to avoid a government shutdown. The group’s government affairs representatives are holding meetings with Senate staffers to push for both issues.   

“We do have a voice,” Pinchotti said. “That voice is important. Our staff is military families. When we go as a team to talk to Congress, that is us. And it’s all of our constituents.”

Tuberville’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ongoing situation.  

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