Sen. Tommy Tuberville rode into Washington as a ride-or-die Trump supporter, campaigning as being more of a Trump booster than Trump’s own former attorney general, then making headlines by saying he would challenge the counting of some electoral votes even before he was sworn into office.
With that drama behind him and a whopping three months on the job under his belt, Tuberville seems to be less of a bomb-throwing gadfly and more of a regular working politician, albeit an extremely conservative one.
He voted against President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill, saying it cost too much, didn’t do enough to fight COVID and was stuffed with “progressive wish lists.”
He voted against Xavier Becerra, Biden’s secretary for health and human services, mostly because “he is somebody that believes in late-term abortion, he believes we should have universal health care for everybody, Medicare for all, which the people of Alabama don’t want and don’t need.”
He called H.R. 1, the For the People Act, the “Democrats’ partisan power grab” and “the latest attempt to take power away from the states.” The proposal would reform election laws, including automatic voter registration and election-day registration.
And, of course, he supports former President Donald Trump’s border wall, on which the Biden administration immediately halted construction. Tuberville joined a delegation for a trip to Texas this week, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, to discuss the ongoing migrant crisis at the border, which he said the Biden administration has refused to acknowledge.
When it comes to immigration control, “a wall is fundamentally where you start,” he said.
So, as was expected, Tuberville is a reliably conservative voice in the Senate. He also sometimes sounds like a politician who has moderated — but not completely abandoned — some of the hard-line rhetoric of his campaign.
“It seems like he’s become more quiet about it at least, which I found more surprising,” said Dr. Regina Wagner, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama.
Wagner said she expected Tuberville to behave more like some other senators who focus on conflict more than typical Senate duties. But, she said, some of his recent actions are more akin to the low-key conservatism of senior Sen. Richard C. Shelby, and Tuberville “came in being very much not that type of senator.”
The former Auburn football coach made his first campaign for public office when he ran for the Senate last year. He defeated former Sen. Jeff Sessions, who had given up his Senate seat to become Trump’s first attorney general, in a bitter Republican primary runoff that focused on which of the two was the most strident supporter of Trump. Tuberville then ousted freshman Democrat Doug Jones in the November general elecion.
Tuberville has been hosting nearly weekly telephone calls with Alabama reporters (from which most of the quotes in this story originated, from questions asked by Birmingham Watch and others).
Asked about recent dangerous weather in the state, and whether he would be willing to ask for federal aid, Tuberville said, “Yes, we are prepared to go to the Biden administration and ask for federal help.”
He voted for Biden’s nominee for secretary of labor, former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, although 18 Republicans, including Shelby and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), voted against him.
“While I’m sure there will be various disagreements on policy, I will work with Mr. Walsh to get Americans back to work,” he said in a statement after the vote.
Asked by Birmingham Watch if he sees any areas of common ground with the Biden administration, or whether he might seek to perform a more obstructive role, Tuberville said, “I don’t want to be obstructive at all.”
He noted that he has seats on key committees for the state: Armed Services; Veterans Affairs; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
“I hope there’s some common ground that we can work with the Biden aministration to help in all those areas that every day I have worked with in committees,” he said. “There’s some things that we will block, or try to block, simply for the fact that it’s not best for the people of Alabama. I’ve already done that. But I hope there’s something we can work side by side with the Biden administration to help this country and help the people of Alabama live a better life.”
Still, he’s not shy about criticizing the administration over much of its policy agenda, as shown by his visit to the border wall this week.
Wagner said Tuberville may single out a few national issues to highlight, while still keeping a focus on Alabama issues such as solidifying the move of Space Command headquarters to Huntsville and securing infrastructure funding (if a proposed infrastructure bill comes to pass, “we’ll get as much as we possibly can for Alabama,” Tuberville said).
“If he’s doing this, he’s definitely more of a tactical politician than I expected,” Wagner said. “It probably would be a good strategy for him if he had a few issues, such as the border, where he’s acting like a Trump-style politician,” and then be “quietly working on some other issues.”
Legislation sometimes moves slowly in Washington, but times can move fast. Shelby recently announced his pending retirement from the Senate, which means Tuberville will be the state’s senior senator in two years.
Tuberville said he has talked to the declared candidates for Shelby’s seat, including Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and Lynda Blanchard, who served as the ambassador to Slovenia under Trump.
“I personally will stay out of it, out of the primary,” he said. “I think you need to earn this on your own … whoever wins this race, I’ll be working hand in hand. It’s really not a junior or senior senator, it’s somebody that, you can help each other to work and try to do as much as you possibly can for the people of the state of Alabama. Two heads are better than one. I’m looking forward to working with Sen. Shelby for the next two years, and whoever wins the race two years from now.”
As for how his time in the Senate has been thus far, Tuberville said, “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I think you can make a difference here in the Senate.”