It’s all drawing lots of attention from the president. While in South Carolina last week to highlight the administration’s bipartisan infrastructure law, Biden needled Tuberville for voting against the bill while praising the $1.4 billion in broadband the state got because of it. And at fundraisers in California, the president chided the Alabamian for holding up military nominations.
Biden rarely gives so much real estate behind the presidential podium to a single, rank-and-file lawmaker. But there’s little love lost between the two. Biden rarely mentions Tuberville by name and doesn’t even use the polite Senate-speak of calling him “my friend.” The president mocks the senator’s former life, referring to him as “the former football coach from Alabama, who was a better coach than he’s a senator.”
Tuberville responded in kind in an interview: “He was a better senator than a president.” And he went further, likening the president to a dictator.
The Pentagon policy is “not just about abortion,” he told POLITICO. “Remember, it’s also about dictating from the White House. Being a dictator, we don’t need dictators. You can’t dictate a law, it’s supposed to go through us.”
Tuberville’s strident positions on an array of issues make him an easy go-to villain for the president, Democratic allies said, especially among friendly crowds during closed-door fundraisers.
By teeing off on Tuberville’s abortion position, Biden is highlighting an issue that divides the GOP. And the administration can’t get enough of Republicans who court charges of hypocrisy by praising the cash spent by laws they voted against.
But the beef goes deeper: After Trump endorsed Tuberville in 2020 over his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Tuberville went on to defeat one of Biden’s closest allies, Doug Jones, in the general election. Then Tuberville’s very first vote as a senator was objecting to Biden’s election win. He also immediately endorsed Trump’s presidential reelection campaign last fall.
For Biden, a longtime senator with a nostalgic view of how the chamber works, Tuberville’s military obstruction also illuminates what he feels is the extremism of today’s GOP.
“It’s just bizarre. I don’t remember it happening before. And I’ve been around,” Biden said in California.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Tuberville’s role in the months-long dispute is now on Biden’s radar, said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), one of the president’s closest allies in Congress. Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, at his confirmation hearing Tuesday to become Joint Chiefs chair, said the holds would cause the military to “lose talent.”
“Part of the president’s job description is commander-in-chief. And I am confident that Pentagon leaders have raised the issue not as a partisan concern, but as an operational concern,” Coons said in an interview. “We are now at a point where delayed promotions are having substantive, operational impact. Of course the president is concerned and aware of it.”
Yet even as Biden makes political hay over Tuberville’s positions, the senator has plenty of incentive to keep the fight with the White House in public view, particularly in a state as deep-red as his.
“It does not hurt him at all in Alabama,” said John Wahl, chair of the Alabama Republican Party. Tuberville’s hold on military promotions over the Defense Department’s abortion policy “is good representation for the people of Alabama and it’s the right policy for any senator,” Wahl added.
Jones, in an interview, acknowledged that in the state, “by and large, people are somewhat supportive” of Tuberville’s military holds. That’s “because they are conservative and they do think he’s standing up against an agenda that they don’t particularly agree with,” he added.
Tuberville said he doesn’t believe his actions reflect poorly on the GOP, either, because “my party is the pro-life party.”
Still, Jones said Biden is right to call out Tuberville’s positions and expects him to continue to do so. After all, national security is a critical piece of Biden’s campaign to win another four-year term — and if there’s a lightning-rod GOP senator standing in his way, calling Tuberville out might be good politics, too.
“The military nominations [are] too important of an issue,” Jones said. “And as the president is moving toward campaigning for reelection and touting things like the infrastructure bill, and others, I think he has to call out [the] hypocrisy of anybody.”
Tuberville claims the Biden administration is making no attempt to negotiate a solution on the military holds even as he has rejected some attempted compromises. The issue is now getting daily coverage on cable news, with some of Tuberville’s GOP colleagues looking for an escape hatch despite their sympathy for his position.
“We need to get this matter resolved. We need the generals in place,” said Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “I share Sen. Tuberville’s opposition to the president’s abortion travel policy. But I’m hopeful we can come up with an off-ramp.”
Still, some Republicans suspect Democrats are relishing battling with Tuberville. Sen. Mike Rounds, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said the whole thing is “a fight on abortion to begin with. I think this administration likes fighting on that.”
In recent days, a handful of senior military officials have gone public with their concerns. As of Monday, the Marine Corps does not have a confirmed commandant for the first time in over a century.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said Tuberville is engaging in “scorched-earth gamesmanship” that is “intentionally damaging America’s military readiness in the name of selfish grandstanding and extreme politics.”
Tuberville “has not only actively undermined our national security, but injected uncertainty into the lives of hundreds of military families whose moves are being impacted and don’t know where their kids are going to school or where their spouses can work,” he added.
Meanwhile, the consternation around Tuberville could hurt Alabama in one big way: The state is competing to house Space Command, the Pentagon’s combatant command overseeing space. It was temporarily established in Colorado in 2019, but Trump said its permanent home should be in Alabama.
The Biden administration will now have to decide whether the facility goes to Tuberville’s state.