The US Marine Corps has no confirmed commandant for the first time in more than a century and a half as a Republican senator’s abortion protest blocks over 200 military appointments.
Top military nominations are approved by the Senate Armed Services committee and eventually the full chamber, but a single senator can hold up the process.
Since February Senator Tommy Tuberville has refused to confirm nominees.
The Pentagon says 265 nominations have been delayed by the row.
The department predicts that number may rise to over 650 should the blockade continue until the end of the year.
Senator Tuberville of Alabama is protesting against a Pentagon policy that offers travel allowances and time off for military personnel who want an abortion.
Senator Tuberville, a former college football coach, describes the policy on his website as “illegal tax-payer funded abortions”.
But he argues that the military positions he is blockading are not vacant as they have been filled on an acting basis.
The Acting Commandant of the Marine Corps will be General Eric Smith, currently the assistant commandant.
President Joe Biden nominated him for promotion and his confirmation hearing was on 13 June.
But he has not been approved because of the blockade by Senator Tuberville. This means he will be doing two roles instead of one, says the Defence Department.
“Two positions that require two different people to be in those roles will now be a dual-hatted position,” Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, told reporters, “which of course is going to impact the US Marine Corps.”
Until formally approved, the acting commandant of the Marine Corps cannot issue guidance on planning or policies, nor make major changes. Roles can only be filled by the next in command.
Senator Tuberville’s actions have been heavily criticised by both sides of the political divide.
“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.”
“There’s a cascading effect,” says Mark Cancian, a former member of the Marine Corps and ex-Pentagon official, now a senior adviser at the think tank CSIS.
“Someone will move in behind him, and then someone in behind him. And there’s a whole domino effect that’s being held up.”
Mr Cancian said it was “embarrassing”, but disagreed with the Biden administration’s argument that the blockade jeopardises national security.
“The people who are in the jobs now are very capable,” he said. “That’s why I’m a little less sympathetic to the notion that we’re endangering security because of this policy. At least for some period of time, if he keeps this on for six months or a year that might be a different story.”
For now, Senator Tuberville remains steadfast in his hold against nominations, saying on the Senate floor on Monday that he believed “the Marines Corps is in good hands with General Smith”.
Source : BBC