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Tommy Tuberville Reaps What He Sowed
Plus: Letting ‘Ron be Ron’ has not gone well.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, August recess edition. Before we get started, please do me a favor and share this newsletter with someone you think might like it. Let them know that every Tuesday edition is free, so all they need to do to get it is to sign up for it.
It’s time for our periodic check-in on Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who has been engaged in a months-long block of hundreds of senior military promotions that require Senate confirmation. After that, we’ll take up an important question: How has Ron DeSantis fared on the campaign trail since the decision was made to “let Ron be Ron”?
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As you’ve read in previous editions of Press Pass, Sen. Tuberville is blocking the Biden administration from completing scores of senior military promotions that require Senate confirmation. He’s standing in the way because he opposes a White House program that reimburses service members for certain expenses when traveling across state lines for abortions and related care. To end his blockade, Tuberville has called for an up-or-down vote on disallowing the practice, which Democratic leadership won’t provide. It’s making everyone mad at someone, but mostly at Tuberville.
The White House has taken political advantage of the situation by dinging Tuberville in public speaking engagements, but until recently, they hadn’t done much else. Many expect Republicans to be the ones who will ultimately have to resolve the issue; many in Tuberville’s own party are getting fed up with the stunt. They’re concerned over how it could harm troop readiness, to say nothing of the party’s pro-military brand.
That’s how things looked a few days ago. But things changed Monday when the Biden administration reversed a Trump-era decision to relocate U.S. Space Command from Colorado to Alabama, as reported by the Associated Press. The decision to keep Space Command where it is goes against the recommendation of the Air Force and is a clear escalation in the administration’s standoff with Tuberville. The reversal had been on the table for quite some time: It was the subject of numerous meetings and discussions, and it likely caused members of Alabama’s congressional delegation to lose sleep as one of their more outspoken members continued his military promotions blockade.
While Tuberville can’t help but feel much of the blame, he still refuses to budge. In a statement, the embattled senator claimed Biden was the one playing politics by not choosing a red state for the Space Command headquarters:
The top three choices for Space Command headquarters were all in red states—Alabama, Nebraska, and Texas. Colorado didn’t even come close. This decision to bypass the three most qualified sites looks like blatant patronage politics, and it sets a dangerous precedent that military bases are now to be used as rewards for political supporters rather than for our security.
“This is absolutely not over,” Tuberville added. “I will continue to fight this as long as it takes to bring Space Command where it would be best served—Huntsville, Alabama.”
The rest of the Alabama delegation seethed over the decision, but they joined Tuberville in directing their ire at the administration. The state’s junior senator, Katie Britt, said Biden “irresponsibly decided to yank a military decision out of the Air Force’s hands in the name of partisan politics.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said, “It’s clear that far-left politics, not national security, was the driving force behind this decision.”
Even Alabama’s lone Democrat on the Hill, Rep. Terri Sewell, said Biden’s decision “bows to the whims of politics over merit.”
Lawmakers (mostly) want what’s best for their constituents, and given the jobs, federal contracts, and prestige that would go along with it, having U.S. Space Command in your state falls under that category. That’s why these Alabamian pols were united in their rage while Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), whose resolution to impeach Biden went to two committees just over a month ago, lauded the president’s reversal of a Trump administration decision.
The Space Command episode is emblematic of the continuing standoff between Tuberville and the White House. Each day the senator refuses to relent has increased challenges for the military, while the Biden administration has shown it’s not above ignoring recommendations from its own military leadership in order to put additional pressure on a renegade lawmaker.
The Senate is currently on a five-week break, but they’re not fully closed for business. Every few days, they hold pro-forma sessions where a senator from the majority party gavels in and gavels out in under a minute. These serve a number of purposes, including preventing the president from using his constitutional power to appoint people without confirmation when the Senate is in recess, so don’t expect an end-run around Tuberville’s holds anytime soon. It’s not always so easy. During today’s pro forma session, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) failed to show up at the scheduled 12:15 p.m. start time. After a couple hours of limbo, Warren arrived to quickly punch in and out.
“All of these jobs are being done,” Tuberville tweeted just hours before the Space Command decision came out. “My holds are NOT affecting national security.”
It’s clear they’re at least affecting someone.
The DeSantis campaign reboot: What could go Ron?
During the initial phase of the Ron DeSantis presidential campaign reboot a little over a week ago, the Florida governor’s team announced a new direction to give their man a much-needed boost: “Let Ron Be Ron,” (In Republican circles, that slogan dates back to another Ron: “Let Reagan Be Reagan.” William Safire says the Reagan people had in mind the anti-Communist slogan “Let Poland Be Poland.”)
Politico reported that DeSantis’s campaign assured donors they would be “going back to our basics” by “expos[ing]” him to voters more frequently and leaning into his skills in the area of retail politics.
NBC News checked in on this new, leaner, more focused DeSantis campaign, and, well, here are some anecdotes:
A 15-year-old at the Oskaloosa coffee shop asked about military service restrictions on people with mental health disorders — a topic right in line with the DeSantis campaign’s desire to highlight his military expertise.
“I can’t legally vote,” the teen said, “but I struggle with major depressive disorder.”
DeSantis interrupted the teen with a rejoinder: “It’s never stopped the other party from not letting you vote.”
In another moment reported by NBC News, an 82-year-old farmer noted to DeSantis that since his wife died of cancer, he has worked a smaller area of his farm. He then asked the candidate about ethanol. DeSantis gave the widower a speech about the need to “turn back this rush to electric vehicles.”
It feels as though everywhere DeSantis takes a step, there’s a rake waiting for him. In a recent clip that went semiviral, DeSantis asks a little girl what she’s eating—an ICEE, it turns out—then admonishes her for it being full of sugar. I can imagine a staffer who survived the recent culling making a note for the candidate: “Let people enjoy things.”
At the risk of understatement: Connecting with individuals on the campaign trail matters significantly for the health and momentum of a campaign. It can help assuage concerns about the candidate’s likability and breathe new life into appearances otherwise defined by stale stump speeches. Some awkward candidates can eventually find a natural rapport with the public through coaching and training. But some just don’t have the goods.