Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala. Getty Images / Kevin Dietsch

Senator blocks Marine confirmation, leaving Corps with an acting commandant

Gen. David Berger relinquished his position hours before the motion, handing authorities over to Assistant Commandant Gen. Eric Smith.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville blocked the confirmation of Gen. Eric Smith to become the commandant of the Marine Corps, objecting to a motion by Sen. Jack Reed that would have avoided the service remaining without a confirmed leader for the first time in more than 100 years.

Reed, D-R.I., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, attempted to have Smith’s nomination approved by unanimous consent—a more expedient option than going through the traditional voting process. But Tuberville, R-Ala., objected as part of his continuing hold on senior military nominations prompted by the Pentagon’s abortion travel and paid leave policy.

“There is little doubt about soon that he will be confirmed. I’ve met with Gen. Smith. I’ve got great respect and admiration for what he’s done,” Tuberville said. “During our meeting, Gen. Smith assured me that he was committed to keeping politics out of the military. And for me to vote for somebody, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Keep politics out of the military.”

Tuberville said Democrats can put the nomination up for a vote if they are concerned about the Marine Corps. Nominees can be confirmed despite the holds, but only if they are voted on individually, using the traditional—but more time intensive—voting procedure. 

By law, Gen. David Berger had to leave his position as commandant by Tuesday, Reed said, adding that “I can guarantee you that Gen. Berger takes no comfort in ending his career with his successor unsettled.”

Smith “stands ready to continue his service to our nation and the Marines he will lead for four more years. It simply awaits our action. Our action and inaction matter,” Reed said.

Hours earlier, military and defense officials gathered at Marine Barracks Washington for Berger’s relinquishment of office ceremony. With the exchange of the Marine Corps’ “Battle Color” flag, Smith is now performing the duties of the commandant while still working as the assistant commandant.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Berger called on the Senate to rectify the situation.

“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,” Austin said at the ceremony.

“And they're crucial for our military readiness,” he said. “And of course, our military families give up so much to support those who serve, so they shouldn't be weighed down with any extra uncertainty.”

The defense secretary is “confident that the United States Senate will meet its responsibilities.”

In his speech, Berger also asked the Senate to confirm a commandant.

“The Marine Corps is in fantastic hands, and I'm with you, Mr. Secretary. We need the Senate to do their job so that we can have a sitting commandant that’s appointed and confirmed. And we need that house to be occupied. We ask the Senate to do that.”