A political standoff in Washington over the Pentagon’s abortion benefits for service members and their families has threatened to create a void in the leadership of the US Marine Corps for the first time since 1859.
The Marines apparently will not have a Senate-confirmed commandant to take the reins when current chief General David Berger completes his four-year term on July 10 because of a protest by Senator Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, over military abortion benefits. Berger must vacate his position whether a successor has been confirmed or not, Military.com reported on Friday, citing comments by a Marine Corps spokesman.
President Joe Biden nominated Berger’s deputy, General Eric Smith, to fill the position, but Tuberville has vowed to block Senate confirmations for all Pentagon promotions because of the military’s new policy of reimbursing troops and their dependents if they have to travel out of state to receive an abortion. Smith will fill the position on an interim basis, as acting commandant, if the blockade is not resolved. Pentagon officials have warned that hundreds of military promotions could be disrupted this year.
The conflict goes back to 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 announcing that all US military branches would be required to offer special benefits, including three weeks of paid leave and full reimbursement for expenses, to service members and their dependents who travel to abortion-friendly states to terminate pregnancies.
Tuberville has claimed that the policy violates the Hyde Amendment, a US 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.
Asked in an interview last month how the confirmation impasse might make America look to its adversaries, Tuberville accused Biden of undermining US military readiness with “woke ideas.” He added, “If we want to talk about looking weak, that’s where we’re going to look weak.”
Smith, Biden’s nominee for commandant, claimed last week that the effects of Tuberville’s protest would be felt across the US military ranks, from top leadership down to promotions of young lieutenants. “It certainly compromises our ability to be most ready,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.