The US Marine Corps has been left without a confirmed commander for the first time in more than a century after a lone Republican senator refused to confirm around 250 military promotions in protest against the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
While Marine Commandant General David Berger entered retirement on Monday and is set to be replaced by his deputy, General Eric Smith, Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville has declined to formally confirm the change in leadership, which requires unanimous consent.
The senator has not allowed promotions to go through since March, citing a new Defense Department abortion rule which offers paid leave and reimbursement for service members who travel to another state to get an abortion. The protest has held up some 250 promotions, including top posts, and could leave the Joint Chiefs of Staff without a chairman when General Mark Milley retires in September.
It is unclear when Smith might be confirmed, leaving him as acting leader until his nomination can advance through the Senate. The last time the Marines had an acting commander was in 1859, when its fifth and longest-serving commandant, Archibald Henderson, died without a successor at the age of 76.
In an op-ed published by the Washington Post last month, Tuberville insisted his blockade on promotions has not damaged “military readiness,” arguing that it has had no impact on “the people who actually fight” and “affects only those at the very top.” He has vowed to continue the hold until the abortion policy is either abandoned, or formally codified into legislation.
The Pentagon slammed Tuberville’s actions, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressing the need for “smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership.” Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh argued Tuberville’s protest sets a “dangerous precedent” that will have a “ripple effect throughout the department.”
The White House has similarly said that delayed promotions pose “a threat to our national security,” a stance echoed by several high-ranking Democrats. Some Senate Republicans have also sought to distance themselves from Tuberville’s tactics, including minority leader Mitch McConnell and Louisiana lawmaker Bill Cassidy, who called to “make sure that we’re not sacrificing readiness.”