The US Marine Corps is without leadership for the first time in more than a century after its commandant stepped down and a Republican party senator blocked over 200 military appointments that include a successor for the post.
The marine services of the US Department of the Navy are in for a historic limbo as Alabama’s Republican senator Tommy Tuberville has blocked the nominations for months to protest against the defence department’s abortion policies.
General David Berger stepped down as commandant on Monday and his assistant commandant and potential successor, general Eric Smith, stepped in as the acting leader of the US Marine Corps.
His nomination by the Senate is among the 256 nominations that have been hindered by Mr Tuberville’s blockade.
The Republican senator launched his bid to obstruct the nominations in response to a Pentagon policy that offers travel allowances and time off for a service member who has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care.
Denouncing the policy approved by defence secretary Lloyd Austin as “illegal tax-payer funded abortions”, Mr Tuberville said his hold will have a “minimal effect” on Mr Smith’s ability to lead.
Under the law, top military decisions are approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee and eventually by the consent of the full chamber. But a single objector can hold up the process.
The Pentagon said the blockade could lead to the stalling of promotions of 650 personnel if it continues till the end of the year.
Mr Smith was nominated for promotion by Joe Biden and his confirmation hearing was on 13 June, something that was blocked by Mr Tuberville.
The stall in his promotion means he will not be able to move to the main residence of the commandant or the commandant’s office, or even issue any new formal commandant’s planning guidance, which is usual for a successor.
He will have the authority to implement new policies for the services such as budget, training and other personnel decisions.
“Two positions that require two different people to be in those roles will now be a dual-hatted position,” said the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh, “which of course is going to impact the US Marine Corps”.
The Pentagon is asking officers to delay their planned retirements, while some officers have already taken the responsibilities of more senior ranking jobs without getting the pay for the new rank, she said.
Both Mr Austin and Mr Berger have called on the Senate to take action to resolve the situation.
“You know, it’s been more than a century since the US Marine Corps has operated without a Senate confirmed commandant,” Mr Austin said at a ceremony at the Marine Barracks Washington.
“Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history,” he said.
“Stable and orderly leadership transitions are also vital to maintaining our unmatched network of allies and partners. And they’re crucial for our military readiness.”
The Republican senator has been called out by senior leadership for the blockade.
“This blockade weakens our national security,” said senator Jack Reed, the Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “Every day it goes on it has a more significant impact on operations within our military – all branches of our military.”
“My hold is not affecting readiness,” said Mr Tuberville in a Washington Post op-ed, steadfast in his opposition to the policy.
“Acting officials are in each one of the positions that are due for a promotion. The hold affects only those at the very top – generals and flag officers. The people who actually fight are not affected at all.”
If the blockade continues, it will affect the appointment of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, as current chair, army general Mark Milley, is set to retire from the highest-ranking US military job in September.
General CQ Brown, the current chief of the Air Force, has been nominated to replace Mr Milley, and is scheduled to go before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his hearing on Tuesday.
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