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Sinema’s flawed plan to find ‘common ground’ between Tuberville, DOD

An extraordinary list of powerful people and entities want Tommy Tuberville to end his blockade. Kyrsten Sinema wants to negotiate with him instead.


Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade on U.S. military promotions is currently affecting 301 high-level positions in his own country’s military. In the coming months, that number will grow considerably: The Alabama Republican’s anti-abortion tantrum is poised to affect 650 positions.

According to the Pentagon, the GOP senator’s antics are currently undermining troop readiness, retention, and security relationships with U.S. allies and international partners. Several bases are feeling the effects of Tuberville’s radical tactics, including the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama — the state Tuberville represents.

Peter Feaver, a professor who studies civil-military relations at Duke University, explained last week that Tuberville, whether the coach-turned-politician understands this or not, is providing “a gift to China, and it’s a gift that keeps giving day in and day out.”

With this in mind, U.S. military leaders want Tuberville to stand down and stop undermining the armed forces. Retired military leaders agree. So do veterans. And every living former secretary of Defense. And congressional Democrats. And the White House. And miliary spouses. And his own Republican colleagues. And a majority of people living in Alabama.

But one of Tuberville's colleagues apparently has a different approach in mind. NBC News reported:

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona independent who left the Democratic Party last year, is calling on both the Biden administration and Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., to soften their positions and find a “middle ground” to end the Republican’s monthslong blockade of hundreds of military promotions over a Defense Department policy involving abortion.

Evidently, the independent senator spoke last week at the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, and she fielded a question about Tuberville’s blanket holds. “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,” Sinema said. “I’ve volunteered to help do that. We’ll see if they take me up on the offer.”

Of course, one of the obvious questions is what “that middle ground” might look like. For now, no one seems to have any idea. Sinema told her audience that there’s “always a solution to be had,” but that hardly clarified matters.

NBC News’ report added that the network sent Sinema’s office a series of written questions asking for a description of "the offer she alluded to, what sort of compromise she favors on the abortion-related policy and whether she agrees with the criticism of Tuberville’s holds.” The Arizonan’s office, however, “declined to discuss her private conversations.”

I don’t blame Sinema for the underlying intentions. She sees a dispute, and she’s volunteered to help negotiate some kind of agreement. There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking out solutions to lingering problems.

But the details matter.

Right off the bat, it seems this isn’t the sort of dispute that lends itself to compromise. The Pentagon is providing travel reimbursements to servicemembers who have to travel for reproductive care; Tuberville wants to deny U.S. troops these benefits. The far-right senator has said he won’t give in until the Defense Department aligns its policies with his beliefs, no matter how serious the consequences become for the United States.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, apparently doesn’t see room for compromise, either. “No, we’re not going to change our policy on ensuring that every single service member has equitable access to reproductive health care,” Department of Defense spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters.

It’s entirely possible Sinema is more creative than I am, but I haven’t the foggiest idea where the “common ground” between these positions might be hiding.

But the problem is not just with the implausibility of Sinema’s approach. What Tuberville needs to do is start acting responsibly and end this indefensible blockade. What the Arizona independent is proposing is a compromise plan that would ensure the Alabaman gets something for causing trouble.

In other words, under Sinema’s approach, Tuberville would effectively be rewarded for spending most of the year undermining his own country’s military.

In the process, this would also help create an extraordinary precedent: Senators who want to single-handedly change Pentagon policies would effectively be told that if they, too, impose a months-long blockade on high-ranking military nominees, eventually it will lead to negotiations in which they might also end up with some kind of DOD concessions.

There’s a simple solution here: Tuberville doesn’t need a negotiating table; he needs to act like a responsible adult.