Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville has become President Biden’s new favorite GOP target as the White House seeks to paint the Republican Party as too extreme to govern ahead of the 2024 election.
The White House mentions Tuberville nearly every day, with Biden calling the senator’s current hold on military appointees “totally irresponsible” and his team saying recent comments defending white nationalism aren’t the first time he’s taken that stance.
“I’d be willing to talk if I thought there’s any possibility of him changing his ridiculous position. He’s jeopardizing U.S. security with what he’s doing,” Biden said in Helsinki last week.
The attacks underscore a basic strategy the White House is employing as Biden grapples with approval numbers well below 50 percent: making the case that electing the other side would be worse.
“At this point, Republicans are doing the heavy lifting for Biden and Democrats,” said Ivan Zapien, a former DNC official. “In so many words, Biden is saying, look at the extreme measures they are going to when they don’t have total power and imagine what they will do if they get it. At this stage of the campaign, painting the contrast between both parties is important.”
Democrats are also calling out other Republicans for not denouncing Tuberville.
“The silence from Republicans amid his antics is repugnant, and Americans should be made well aware of the damage being done by him and his fellow Republicans to our country’s safety,” a Democratic strategist close to the Biden campaign said.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre quipped Wednesday that she didn’t have new criticism of Tuberville after he has constantly come up at the daily briefings.
“I know you guys were probably waiting for a Tuberville topper, but I don’t have one for you today,” she said, adding that calling him out every day from the podium is because they’re “trying to send a message to him.”
White House spokesman Andrew Bates sent a memo last week entitled “Splitscreen: mainstream results over division, extremes, and chaos,” saying Tuberville is “choosing to erode military readiness” while Biden is focused on national security and the economy.
“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 said. “Senator Tuberville also spent the better part of a day this week defending white nationalism — and not for the first time.”
Tuberville blocking the Senate from approving military promotions is in protest of the Pentagon’s policy of paid leave and travel reimbursement for abortions, arguing it violates the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal funds for abortion.
Abortion rights were a winning issue for Democrats in 2022, when the president’s party experienced better-than-expected midterm results. Democrats are hoping it will be no different next year, when Biden will be on the ballot for the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
The campaign is tying Republican presidential candidates to Tuberville in an effort to paint them as extreme, most recently calling out Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for running on a pro-military platform but not denouncing the Alabama senator.
“If Ron DeSantis actually cared about the military, he would call on Senator Tuberville to stop the unprecedented damage he’s doing to the armed forces and military families every day by blockading of hundreds of military nominations and promotions,” a Biden campaign spokesman said.
National security spokesman John Kirby passionately defended the Pentagon’s abortion policy on Monday, outlining how it’s critical to military readiness because Americans who volunteer to serve go where they are told.
“What happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place? And you’re concerned about your reproductive care?” he said. “What do you do? Do you say no and you get out? Well, some people may decide to do that, and what does that mean? That means we lose talent, important talent.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Tuberville on Wednesday to discuss his hold, which is the third time they have spoken on the issue in less than four months. The number of nominations being held has grown to more than 280 officers, according to a defense official.
Meanwhile, Tuberville’s support in the deep-red state of Alabama, where a near-total ban on abortion has been enacted, is rising. The senator told The Hill that some supporters have pushed him to run for governor in 2026 and that he has received good feedback from Alabamians over his hold.
Tuberville’s political fortunes in Alabama might benefit from his military holds, but it’s hard for his GOP colleagues to defend them, as well as his remarks on white nationalism.
After Tuberville refused to denounce white nationalists in a CNN interview earlier this month, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said “white supremacy is simply unacceptable in the military and in our whole country.”
Now, he’s taking heat for not reacting the same way to Tuberville blocking military promotions.
Bates said “mainstream Republicans in Congress haven’t yet found the guts” to stand up to Tuberville while he leaves service members in limbo.
“GOP members should find their voice: Are they with the president and military families and rural economic growth, or will they keep caving to the most radical elements of their party?” Bates said.