Tommy Tuberville’s Military Blockade Is The Last Straw For The GOP


Tommy Tuberville’s Republican colleagues had finally had it with him.

For months, the Alabama senator and former college football coach has blocked the confirmation of hundreds of senior military officers because he’s mad about a Pentagon policy that ensures soldiers have abortion access.

The group of anti-abortion Republicans had worked with him since February to try to find a solution. They’d flattered his ego. They’d mostly defended him in public as his game of chicken stretched nine months, punishing hundreds of senior service members who have no say over the policy and hurting U.S. military readiness at a time of global chaos.

But on Wednesday, their patience had worn out.

Five of Tuberville’s GOP colleagues took to the Senate floor to lambast his positions, begging him to relent and forcing him to object over and over again to allow a vote on more than 60 nominations that he’s blocked. The senators read off the sterling biographies of dozens of service members with increasing frustration.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine reserves who served as assistant secretary of state during George W. Bush’s administration, was particularly irate.

“Xi Jinping is watching this right now,” Sullivan, at times yelling, declared on the Senate floor as Tuberville looked on from his desk. “He’s loving this. So is Putin. They’re loving this! How dumb can we be, man?”

“We’re going to look back at this episode and just be stunned at what a national-security suicide mission this became,” Sullivan exclaimed later on during the hours-long standoff. He later mocked Tuberville’s repeated claim that his holds weren’t hurting the military’s preparedness: “That this is not impacting readiness is patently absurd.”

At another point: “America needs the director of missile defense. Like, hello?”

“It’s wrong. We all know it’s wrong. It’s wrong!”

It wasn’t just Sullivan.

“We want this guy. Coach, we need this guy,” South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, an Air Force veteran, implored Tuberville after reading one nominee’s stellar bio. “Let’s don’t ruin the lives of all of these people who have been serving our nation for decades.”

Sullivan tag-teamed reading off the individual nominations with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a fellow military veteran who for years has been one of the Senate’s most outspoken abortion opponents.

“I am a pro-life woman. I am also a veteran and a combat veteran,” she declared, before dryly mocking Tuberville’s position: “I continue to fight for life — in ways that make sense.”

For hours, Sullivan and Ernst read off each nominee’s impressive military biography and asked for unanimous consent to consider their nomination. Each time, Tuberville rose from his desk in the back of the Senate: “I object.”

A bipartisan effort is now underway to overcome Tuberville’s one-man blockade. As of press time, it’s unclear whether enough Republicans will side with Democrats for it to work. But it’s obvious exactly how fed up some of his colleagues in both parties are with the obstinate Alabama lawmaker’s willful refusal to compromise or hear reason.

Tuberville spent most of his career coaching football — most notably at Auburn University, which made him a household name in the state he now represents. He still prefers being called “coach” instead of by his current job title — his official Senate website calls him “Coach Tommy Tuberville.” But his old nickname from his sideline days may be more appropriate: “The Riverboat Gambler.” 

Back then, Tuberville was known to ignore the odds and pick the most aggressive play. It’s a habit that’s stuck now that he’s in the Senate.

That policy that triggered Tuberville’s anger was put in place by the Biden administration after the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to an abortion. Fifteen states, including Tuberville’s Alabama, have banned the procedure. Enlisted service members don’t get to choose where they and their families live — they’re stationed wherever they’re needed, many of them in ruby-red states where abortion access no longer exists and other reproductive care is severely limited. The Pentagon’s fix was to offer soldiers and their families time off and funds to travel to states where abortion remains legal.

Tuberville was irate when he found out about the workaround. His obstructionist response has hamstrung the Pentagon and forced enlisted officers who have nothing to do with the policy to serve as pawns in his policy fight.

When I mention Tuberville’s similarities to a bizzarro Ted Lasso to a Capitol Hill reporter who has good relationships with lawmakers in both parties, they laugh and say, “Yeah, but with a mean streak.”

His holds have stalled more than 370 military leaders’ promotions since February, throwing their careers in limbo and at times forcing their predecessors to stay in their positions rather than move on to new jobs or retirement. By the end of the year, according to Pentagon estimates, 650 generals, admirals, and other senior officers will be blocked from promotions.

That stubborn refusal to budge has alarmed military commanders and infuriated Democrats. And as the holds dragged on, more and more Republicans have publicly vented their frustrations

“I disagree with the tactics that he used, who he picked to penalize,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told me in late September, before lamenting how “disruptive” the holds have been for military families. 

There’s some irony that Tuberville, who frequently says he ran for office so he could give back to America in the same way his own father did with his years of military service, has almost single-handedly paralyzed the entire leadership of the U.S military — in a time of global conflagration, no less. (Tuberville reiterated that he won’t budge even after Hamas attacked Israel.)

In some ways, Tuberville is a mustache away from being the bizzarro Ted Lasso of the Senate — a folksy and affable former college football coach who makes a radical career change, then makes things up as he goes along while blithely ignoring the status quo. But instead of an aw-shucks success story, he’s a testament and a cautionary tale for those who wing it.

When I mention the Ted Lasso similarities to a Capitol Hill reporter who has good relationships with lawmakers in both parties, they laugh and say, “Yeah, but with a mean streak.”

Tuberville’s controversial tactics have earned him a lot of media coverage, and he seems to relish the attention. But his efforts to defend them have gotten him into more trouble.

“We are losing in the military so fast our readiness in terms of recruitment. And why? I’ll tell you why: because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in our agenda,” he said in a May interview with a local NPR affiliate.

When the reporter asked whether or not white nationalists should be allowed in the military, Tuberville responded, “Well, they call them that. I call them Americans.”

He then accused Lloyd Austin, the first Black secretary of defense, of putting out an order to “run out the white nationalists, people that don’t believe how we believe. And that’s not how we do it in this country.”

Tuberville’s comments festered for weeks. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, a fellow Alabama native, asked him to clarify those remarks on her show. He said that he was “totally against racism” but then added, “White nationalist is just another word that they want to use.”

Tuberville finally relented a few days later, admitting that “white nationalists are racists.” But by then even his own brother had denounced him. “I DO NOT agree with any of the vile rhetoric coming out of his mouth,” Charles Tuberville, an Oklahoma-based musician, posted on Facebook. “Please don’t confuse my brother with me.”

Multiple Alabama Republicans who know him insist he somehow had no idea what he was talking about — in spite of his tripling down on the comments.

“I do not believe that Tommy Tuberville is a racist at all,” says one plugged-in Alabama Republican. “I really believe that maybe he doesn’t have an understanding of the English language.” 

But even months later, Tuberville isn’t ready to apologize. One recent hot mid-September day, as Tuberville ran down the Senate steps to an awaiting car, he spots me hustling after him. He stops, waves off an aide and offers to chat. His decades in the spotlight have prepared him well for press scrums. And he’s remarkably willing to talk to reporters of all stripes.

I ask him what he was trying to say with his comments about white nationalists. He tells me that the Democrats were smearing him and other Republicans as racists.

“I’ve been called everything since I’ve been here from the Democrats,” he says. “And they use any phrase to call you a racist. And white nationalist is a racist. But the way they use it and point at me — I’m not a racist. I’ve worked with more minorities than anybody has. And so it’s just unfortunate that they use phrases carte blanche that nobody holds them accountable to. But once we use something, it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, the world’s coming to an end.’ 

“Yes, white nationalists are racist. But at the end of the day, you can’t frame all of us Republicans who believe in this country as racist just because, you know, we fight back against something like that.”

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At a MAGA rally last fall the Tuberville said, “[Democrats are] not soft on crime. They’re pro-crime. They want crime. They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit!”

Cheney Orr/Reuters/Redux

The thing is, this wasn’t the only time Tuberville said something that sounded pretty racist to a lot of people — including to some of his former players. 

At a Trump rally in Nevada last fall, Tuberville went on a rant that seemed to equate Black people with criminals. “[Democrats are] not soft on crime. They’re pro-crime. They want crime. They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that. Bullshit!” he said.

Tuberville has also made false and Islamophobic comments. “I’ve been in the cities, folks, you can’t drive through a neighborhood. Why? Because terrorism has taken over. Sharia law has taken over,” Tuberville said at a February 2020 GOP candidate forum. 

During a podcast conversation with Donald Trump Jr., Tuberville suggested inner-city teachers were illiterate and lazy. “The Covid really brought it out, how bad our schools are and how bad our teachers are in the inner city,” he told Trump Jr. “Most of them in the inner city, I don’t know how they got degrees, to be honest with you. I don’t know whether they can read and write,” Tuberville said. “And they want a raise. They want less time to work, less time in school. It’s just, we’ve ruined [the] work ethic in this country.”

“The statements he made are racist,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson tells me. “What makes it most appalling: We would not even know the name Tuberville if it wasn’t for African American football players who he built his name off of. So it’s ironic, to say the least.”

Tuberville’s comments about teachers were the ones that hit the hardest with one of his former players. Adlai Trone played his senior year for Tuberville at Auburn University and spent the year after that on Tuberville’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant. He’s now a public-school teacher and football coach in Birmingham.

“It was disappointing for real because that’s what position I hold,” he tells me. “I’ve been underpaid and undervalued.… It’s kind of like he’s talking to me. He’s saying ‘uneducated.’ I mean, I’ve got three college degrees.”

Trone says he had a great experience playing and working for Tuberville, and had stayed in touch with his old coach for years.

But now?

“I know who the coach was, but I don’t know who the senator is,” Trone says. “I don’t know the new guy.”

“Is this truly a front? Or was this who you were the past 20, 30, 40 years?” wonders Deuce McAllister, a star running back on Tuberville’s Ole Miss teams. “I don’t know if he actually believes in some of the stuff that he says.”

In some ways, Tuberville is a perfect GOP politician for the Trump era: a well-known celebrity with no political baggage who says he hates Washington as much as his voters do. But there are drawbacks once outsiders win office. And Tuberville is now playing catch-up on policy — and some basic civics.

Shortly after taking his Senate seat, Tuberville said the three branches of government were “the House, the Senate, and the executive” (per the U.S. Constitution, they’re the executive, legislative, and judicial branches). In that same interview, Tuberville claimed that World War II had been fought “to free Europe of socialism” (it was fascism; the communists were U.S. allies back then).

In early 2022, as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Tuberville claimed that Vladimir Putin had done so because Russia is “a communist country, so he can’t feed his people, so they need more farmland.” Russia hasn’t been communist since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, back before Tuberville ever became a head football coach.

He’s also dismissed the human impact on global warming, insisting that “God changes the climate.” Scientists disagree.

Tuberville may not know science or policy well, but that doesn’t mean he lacks political skills. He has a knack for getting what he wants, and telling people what they want to hear. Former players and others who have worked with Tuberville say he’s always been an adept politician — who often puts himself first. As one former University of Mississippi official put it: “It’s always been about Tommy.”

His effectiveness was clear early on in his coaching career. After a disappointing 1996 season as head coach of Ole Miss’ football team and after an ugly loss to in-state rival Mississippi State, Tuberville was furious.

“We can’t recruit against the Confederate flag,” Tuberville told then-Chancellor Robert Khayat in a meeting the morning after the drubbing, Khayat wrote in his memoir.

Ole Miss was still struggling to overcome the legacy of the race riots that had met the school’s 1962 integration. The university had officially stopped using the Confederate flag as an official school symbol in the early 1980s. But many students and alumni who packed the stadium each Saturday had refused to give it up, and a sea of stars and bars often waved from the stands. Not surprisingly, recruitment of top Black athletes stalled.

Khayat saw Tuberville’s frustration as an opportunity to get rid of a symbol that had hamstrung the university for decades. Many students and alumni didn’t want to change the decades-old tradition. Football, however, is king.

Tuberville was reluctant at first to join the fight, telling PR guru Harold Burson “I’m not going to get involved in the politics of this thing right now.” But he was on board after a losing season. The coach repeatedly asked fans to stop bringing the flag to games, including issuing a statement asking them to “use good judgment on what you elect to bring into the stadium.”

The effort triggered a furious public fight. A pro-Confederate group sent 3,000 letters accusing Khayat of “lynching Ole Miss.” A state senator held a press conference where a man representing Khayat symbolically beheaded school mascot Colonel Reb, a caricature of a plantation owner. The dean received FBI protection after repeated death threats.

But Tuberville’s support — and argument that they’d win more if the flag went away — helped sway the school’s alumni and students. When Khayat banned sticks in the stadium as a way to keep fans from waving the flags, they mostly responded by giving up the sordid tradition. 

What’s striking today is this is the same man who, decades later, as a senator, would fight against renaming military bases that carried the names of Confederate generals. The same guy who spent decades persuading Black parents to entrust their kids to him is now running up a long record of racially incendiary remarks as a politician. 

“Is this truly a front? Or was this who you were the past 20, 30, 40 years?” wonders Deuce McAllister, a star running back on Tuberville’s Ole Miss teams.

“I don’t know if he actually believes in some of the stuff that he says,” McAllister tells Rolling Stone. “He’s been successful as a head coach, and you know, he’s done what he’s had to do to be successful as a head coach. So it’s no different than politics.”

McAllister is one of a number of Black former Tuberville players who say the senator they see on TV doesn’t sound like the same guy that they knew.

“I don’t think he’s racist,” adds McAllister. “I think it’s politics.”

Tuberville, for his part, insists he hasn’t changed. “Well, a lot of these young guys don’t understand what goes on up here,” Tuberville tells me when I ask him about remarks from McAllister, who is 44 now, and other former players wondering about their former head coach. “They don’t understand the significance of a different job that I have. I’m the same person, but I’m in a different position where I have to make decisions that are controversial for the United States of America, and for them. And so they’ve got to look at the big game. But they don’t have to do that. They’re young, they’re growing up.” 

Football took Tuberville far from his humble beginnings. He grew up outside Camden, a small town in southern Arkansas, the youngest of three children. His dad was a World War II veteran who worked for Grapette, a soda company headquartered in town.

Tuberville was a high school football star who went on to play safety at nearby Southern State College, now known as Southern Arkansas University. After graduation, he got into coaching, first at the high school level and as an assistant at his alma mater before getting his big break as a graduate assistant at the University of Miami. There he rose under legendary coach Jimmy Johnson all the way to defensive coordinator in 1993, part of a staff that won multiple national championships (he coached NFL Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis, as well as Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson).

That success led to a brief stop at Texas A&M before Tuberville was offered a head-coaching job at Ole Miss, where he flashed another politician’s go-to move: telling the people what they want to hear.

As the 1998 season wound down, rumors flew that Tuberville might abandon Ole Miss for a bigger, better-paying job. His response was unequivocal. “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box,” he declared to a gaggle of Mississippi reporters.

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Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville before a game against Tennessee in 2003. He was known as “The Riverboat Gambler” throughout his coaching career and seems to have brought that same high-stakes, risk it all approach to the Senate.

Gary Bogdon/”Sports Illustrated”/Getty Images

Two days later, without telling his team, he hopped onto a private plane. His players and assistant coaches found out that their coach had quit by turning on ESPN and watching him step off the plane in Auburn.

“We all found out via the television,” McAllister says. “You’re frustrated. You’re hurt. You’re confused.”

Tuberville later claimed that he’d meant the “pine box” comment when he’d said it, but after Khayat told him in a subsequent conversation he wouldn’t be getting the money for new facilities, he’d changed his mind.

Tuberville’s greatest head-coaching success came in his decade at Auburn, the only time in his life that Tuberville lived in Alabama full-time before he ran for the Senate. He coached future NFL stars like Cadillac Williams, Jason Campbell, Marcus McNeill, and Karlos Dansby, and famously beat in-state archrival University of Alabama six times in a row. His team went undefeated in 2004, and the AP named Tuberville national coach of the year that season. His string of success made him one of Alabama’s best-known figures, with name recognition that surpassed any of the state’s politicians’.

The wins slowed down, however, after superstar coach Nick Saban was hired by Alabama and began beating Auburn — and everybody else. Tuberville resigned in 2008.

He spent a year at ESPN, then was hired to coach at Texas Tech. He lasted three mediocre seasons. In 2012, he was out at a recruiting dinner with potential players when he stepped away — one player said they thought he’d run to the bathroom — and never came back. The next day he announced he’d taken the head-coaching job at the University of Cincinnati, stunning his Texas Tech bosses and players.

“As recently as yesterday he looked me in the eye and gave me his commitment and dedication to Texas Tech football and leading this program forward,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told the AP at the time.

That wasn’t Tuberville’s only controversy that year. Shortly after resigning from Auburn, Tuberville formed a 50-50 investment partnership with John David Stroud, a former Lehman Brothers broker. The venture turned out to be a sham. Stroud pleaded guilty to securities fraud for misappropriating more than $2 million from his investors and was given a 10-year sentence. Tuberville wasn’t charged, but seven other investors sued him in 2012. They reached a private settlement in 2013.

Tuberville paints himself as an unwitting victim of Stroud’s, just like the other investors. 

“This guy conned us,” he tells me. “He went to jail, and he should have.”

From the start, Tuberville was upfront about his level of financial literacy: In 2009, while talking about the hedge fund, he told a local reporter, “I’m not smart enough to understand all the numbers.”

Later in a 2012 sworn legal deposition, he said that he “was a football coach, not an investment analyst or researcher,” and “did not conduct any due diligence or any other investigation of David Stroud,” but simply handed him money to invest. 

After lawyers’ fees and whatever he paid out in the private settlement, Tuberville reportedly lost $2 million total, according to The New York Times. It’s notable how little effort he put into vetting Stroud. Tuberville tells me: “I knew the guy for several years, he got to be friends with a bunch of us,” and had cost him and others “a lot of money — that’s the way it goes.”

Of course, Tuberville can do whatever he wants with his money. But his cavalier approach to investing suggests that his “Riverboat Gambler” attitude isn’t confined to the football field.

Tuberville quit coaching at the end of the 2016 season and spent another year at ESPN. But many who knew him say they expected that he would ease into retirement, perhaps mixing in some part-time football commentary with rounds of golf near his Florida-panhandle home. Instead, he saw an opportunity to get back in the spotlight in a new venture: politics.

“I don’t like what the coach is doing,” said one anti-abortion, pro-military GOP senator. “I don’t want to punish military members who are ready for more authority because of this debate. I don’t want to hold them hostage.”

Tuberville seriously considered running for Alabama governor in 2018, sources say, but opted against it because he liked Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. Two years later, he took the plunge with a Senate bid.

He leveraged his near-universal name recognition as Auburn’s former coach and bear-hugged the president, who was wildly popular with the state’s GOP base. Tuberville declared in his first campaign ad that “God sent us Donald Trump because God knew we were in trouble,” and described himself as a “fighter” and a “politician’s worst nightmare.” 

Tuberville made the second round of voting in the crowded primary to face off against former U.S. Attorney General and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a onetime Trump ally who’d infuriated the president when he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Trump and his deep-pocketed allies backed Tuberville and repeatedly attacked Sessions, helping the coach sail to an easy victory in the primary. He then crushed Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the general election.

Tuberville, echoing his political patron Trump, won by ducking policy and refusing to debate at all during his Senate campaign. Sessions called him a “coward,” but the Alabama voters didn’t care. He was Trump-lite, with an SEC football pedigree.

It’s no small wonder Tuberville wasn’t eager to talk about policy positions in public. He told Trump Jr. during a May podcast interview that he gets up at five every morning to read up for a few hours on what’s happening around the world, and seemed to marvel at everything going on.

“In football, they had offense, defense, and kicking game. Here, they’ve got everything, and you’ve gotta keep up with it,” he said.

Tuberville has been an outspoken foe of abortion access. His official Senate website includes “Pro-Life” as one of the eight defining issues. On his website he declares: “You can count on me to be a voice for the voiceless and champion for the God-given rights of the unborn. I’ll stand against all efforts to use taxpayer funding for abortions.” 

The irony is that the policy Tuberville is so furious about isn’t actually being used that much. Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in an August briefing at the Pentagon that a “pretty small” number of service members and their families had actually taken advantage of the program.

Tuberville’s military holds have earned him the most attention and rebuke. At one point, four of the country’s eight top military leadership positions lacked Senate-confirmed leaders for the first time in U.S. history until Tuberville decided to allow the confirmation of one senior leader, leading Democrats to push through three top confirmations (a handful more are currently in the works). Many military leaders are being forced to perform two jobs simultaneously.

Tuberville has expressed displeasure about multiple specific nominees. “I’m very concerned about our military going woke, and we’re headed in that direction,” he tells me. But Tuberville says his holds are only about the abortion policy — he might vote against particular officers on a case-by-case basis, but he won’t hold them up.

“If we voted on this today, there’d be no holds and it’d be over. It’s giving me time to vet all these admirals and generals.”

Unsurprisingly, military leaders are furious. In a joint Washington Post op-ed in early September, the heads of the Army, Navy, and Air Force said Tuberville’s maneuver was “putting our national security at risk” and “unfair to these military leaders and their families.”

That pissed off Tuberville. He says he hasn’t talked to military leadership since mid-summer. “I’m not going to do it again, because they said they’re not going to change,” he says. He seems content to be the most stubborn man in the room and wait for the other side to fold, inertia his grand strategy.

Tuberville has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe Pentagon officials when they tell him that his confirmation blockade is hurting readiness. The officers whose lives have been upended by the policy are loath to speak out publicly about it, but the anger is rising with every month.

Tuberville brushes any security concerns aside. He’s argued that the military has too many generals, anyway. “In World War II, there’s one for every 6,000 service members. Now, there’s one for every 1,500. We’ve got too many,” he said in May on Trump Jr.’s podcast. 

Tuberville tells me that he is “very concerned” about the personal impact his holds were having on service members and their families, but compares it to the thousands of military service members who were forced out of the military for refusing to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He has never expressed any such concerns for any members of the service or their families needing reproductive care. 

The idea for a wholesale blockade of military appointments doesn’t appear to have even been Tuberville’s in the first place. Former Tuberville military adviser Morgan Murphy said he was the one who suggested the idea as one of a range of options to pressure Biden’s military leadership into reversing their abortion policy. “I explained all his options to him,” he told The Washington Post

Murphy resigned days after that story published, and tells me that he thought the Post’s story had given him too much credit for his role in Tuberville choosing the policy. But he’s kept in touch with the senator, and predicts that the stalemate will continue to drag on.

“I do not see an exit ramp for it. I think we’re gonna see this become an election issue for the next — for the presidential election,” he says.

Tuberville has repeatedly said he won’t rescind his holds unless the military backs off the policy. He said he’d accept the policy if Congress passed it into law — but given the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate, there’s no chance either pro-choice or pro-life policies can pass the chamber (not to mention that the House is in GOP hands).

Tuberville and other Republicans say that Democrats could use floor time to confirm these top positions individually. But there’s literally not enough time for the Senate to confirm the hundreds of other positions that Tuberville is blocking from a quick vote without grinding all of the Senate’s other operations to a halt. A report the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service conducted for the Senate Armed Services chair in August found that it would take the Senate “approximately 689 hours and 20 minutes of floor consideration, plus two days of session,” or fully 89 days to confirm the first 273 nominees, if they were in session eight hours a day. By the time they’d finally wrap that up, more than 300 other stalled nominations would await them, resetting the clock to zero.

Tuberville acknowledges that’s the point. “[If] they gonna do them all this way, we’ll be here forever,” he tells me.

The longer Tuberville’s holds drag on, the more vocal some of his GOP colleagues have grown in calling for him to break the impasse — including Senate GOP leadership.

“I have hoped for quite some time that we can get it resolved and get these important positions filled,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, tells me.

“We’ve got to break the logjam. I don’t think we can go on in perpetuity. But right now there’s no negotiating,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) told Rolling Stone in mid-September.

“The concern I have with Tommy’s current position is the blanket holds. It affects readiness. It affects recruiting. So we’ve got to come to a solution,” Tillis continued. “I like policies where you’re negotiating and trying to come up with a compromise, and I’m not seeing any compromise, which suggests to me this policy could go on for months — or years, technically, and I think that’s a mistake. Got to figure out a middle ground.”

“I don’t like what the coach is doing,” said one anti-abortion, pro-military senior GOP senator. “I don’t want to punish military members who are ready for more authority because of this debate. I don’t want to hold them hostage.”

Tillis and a handful of other Republicans were considering joining with Democrats to make a one-time move to overcome Tuberville’s holds and confirm hundreds of nominees—a separate push from the fury that Tuberville’s GOP colleagues unloaded on him on Wednesday. As of press time, it was unclear if that effort would succeed.

Back at home, there’s some discomfort from Republican leaders worried about the military (Alabama has a number of large military bases and veterans) — as well as the economic impact of the fight. The Biden administration reversed a Trump administration-era decision to build Space Force’s new headquarters in Huntsville and instead has opted to keep it in Colorado — a move that, while they argued was based purely on military readiness, politicians in both parties saw as a clear brushback to Tuberville’s bullheadedness. Still, most local Republicans thought Tuberville wouldn’t face political fallout back home in the deep-red state.

“His political skills are very underestimated. It’s his policy skills where the jury is still out,” says one Alabama Republican lobbyist.

Tuberville doesn’t seem to mind the criticism from his GOP colleagues, the military, or Democrats. “Obviously, some people don’t support it,” he tells me, but he feels like he’d gotten “a lot of support” from others. And he’s quite used to intense media scrutiny — no one gets more flak than an SEC football coach the day after a loss.

“He’s used to this kind of action … and being in the middle of things that are controversial. I mean, he was a big-time coach,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) tells me. “You can imagine, you’re standing there in front of 100,000 people and the game’s on the line — he knows how to do pressure situations.”

But this isn’t the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. Lives are on the line. And Coach just keeps running the same play.

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