Senate to vote on 3 top military officers after Marine Corps commandant hospitalized
Stars and Stripes November 1, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Senate will circumvent a Republican senator’s hold on military confirmations to vote on the top officers in the Air Force and Navy as well as the Marines’ second-in-command after the Corps commandant was hospitalized this weekend.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he will move to fill remaining vacancies on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and confirm Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps because the illness of Commandant Gen. Eric Smith has left a leadership vacuum.
All three positions have been caught in a monthslong hold on military promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who is refusing to comply with a standard confirmation process for senior officer nominees unless the Pentagon rescinds an abortion access policy for service members.
Smith was hospitalized Sunday after a “serious medical emergency,” Schumer said.
“Normally Lt. Gen. Mahoney would have been able to immediately step in to temporarily serve as commandant, but unfortunately because of the blanket holds of just one senator — Sen. Tuberville — that cannot happen,” Schumer said Wednesday. “The situation at the Marine Corps is precisely the kind of avoidable emergency that Sen. Tuberville has provoked through his reckless holds.”
Mahoney, now the deputy commandant for programs and resources, was nominated for promotion to the Marine Corps’ second-highest officer in July.
Smith was confirmed to lead the Marine Corps in September after serving as assistant commandant and acting commandant for months while awaiting Senate confirmation. His duties are now being performed by Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the most senior officer at Marine Corps headquarters, according to the service.
Schumer has resisted holding individual votes on military promotions, which are normally voted on swiftly in blocks, but allowed stand-alone votes on Smith, Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. Randy George, the Army chief of staff, after Tuberville tried to force a vote on the Senate floor for Smith.
Tuberville’s office said Wednesday that the senator had gathered enough support to force a vote for Mahoney, prompting another capitulation by Schumer.
“For months, Schumer publicly said that he would not allow votes on military nominations but has now caved for the second time,” Tuberville’s office said. “Tuberville has repeatedly said that Schumer can bring these nominations to the floor or get the Pentagon to reverse their illegal policy.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, has for weeks tried to take action on Adm. Lisa Franchetti, nominated for chief of naval operations, and Gen. David Allvin, nominated for Air Force chief of staff. Both are performing the roles in an acting capacity.
Their confirmation would mark the first time the Joint Chiefs will be fully staffed by Senate-confirmed officers since the summer.
Nearly 400 senior general and flag officer promotions have been impacted by Tuberville’s nearly nine-month blockade. As many as 650 officers are projected to be affected by the end of the year.
The standstill prompted Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the chairman of the Armed Services committee, to introduce a resolution Tuesday that would allow the Senate to confirm a large group of promotions in one vote. The proposed legislation does not apply to top-level nominees such as Joint Chiefs members and combatant commanders and would only be in effect for the current session of Congress.
Schumer said Wednesday that he would bring the measure to the Senate floor for consideration as soon as possible.
“We must — we absolutely must — ensure that our military is fully staffed and fully equipped to defend the American people,” he said.