The US Army and Marine Corps are both without a top leader for the first time in history because of a political row in Washington, potentially undermining efforts to recruit troops and ensure that they’re ready to defend the nation, the Pentagon has warned.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claimed on Friday that the US Senate’s failure to confirm military nominations for over 300 pending officer posts, including chiefs for the country’s two ground combat forces, is disruptive and could hinder relations with allies.
Senator Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, has blocked approvals for the appointments in a dispute over the Pentagon’s new abortion benefits for servicemembers and their dependents.
“Today for the first time in the history of the Department of Defense, two of our services will be operating without Senate-confirmed leadership,” Austin said in a speech at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. He added, “In our dangerous world, the security of the United States demands orderly and prompt transitions of our confirmed military leaders.”
The Marine Corps has been without a top leader since General David Berger completed his four-year term as commandant on July 10. The void marked the first such leadership gap for the branch in 164 years. The Army was left with the same leadership void on Friday, when General James McConville relinquished his command as chief of staff.
“Great teams need great leaders, and that’s central to maintaining the full might of the most lethal fighting force on earth,” Austin said. “It’s vital for our global leadership and for the trust and confidence of our outstanding network of allies and partners.”
The impasse stems from the US Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 legal ruling that had protected abortion as a constitutional right. The reversal opened the door for dozens of Republican-led states to impose new restrictions on abortion.
The Pentagon responded in February by ordering that all US military branches offer special benefits, including three weeks of paid leave and full reimbursement for expenses, to troops and family members who travel to abortion-friendly states to terminate pregnancies.
Tuberville has claimed the policy violates a federal law that prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions. He has demanded that the Democrat-controlled Senate hold a vote on the abortion travel policy. Democrats could get around Tuberville’s procedural blockade by holding individual votes on each nomination, but they have said that approach would take months and prevent them from addressing other issues. Lawmakers are currently on summer vacation.
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Acting commanders are filling the vacant posts, but they reportedly can’t move into their new offices or homes and are blocked from exercising some powers, such as budgeting authorities and issuing formal policies, until their appointments are confirmed.
“I’m confident that we’ll get this fixed,” Austin said, adding that he expects the Senate to “meet its responsibility and swiftly confirm our 41st chief of staff of the army.”