GOP Sen. Tommy Tuberville shrugs off blame for top Marine's heart attack, comparing the general's heavy workload to his time coaching football

Senate Tommy Tuberville
Sen. Tommy Tuberville speaks to reporters in the Senate subway at the US Capitol on July 10, 2023.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • GOP Senator Tuberville compared his work as a football coach to that of top US Marine Gen. Eric Smith.

  • Smith, a Purple Heart recipient, had a heart attack Sunday after complaining for weeks of being overworked.

  • Tuberville's ongoing block on military promotions has left hundreds of positions vacant, forcing officers like Smith to work two or three jobs.

To GOP Senator Tommy Tuberville, there's little difference between the long hours he put in as Auburn's football coach and that of the top US Marine officer who recently collapsed after complaining of being overworked.

On Thursday, Tuberville spoke to reporters at Capitol Hill about Gen. Eric Smith, the Marine Corps commandant and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was hospitalized on Sunday after an apparent heart attack. "The Marine Corp Commandant probably got 2,000 people working for him," Tuberville said. "Jack Reed blamed me for his heart attack. Come on, give me a break. This guy is going to work 18-20 hours a day no matter what. That's what we do. I did that for years."

Reed, an Army veteran and Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, had said he thought that Smith's heavy workload "contributed" to his hospitalization.

Tuberville has no military service experience and only started his political career when he was elected senator from Alabama in 2020, beating Democratic incumbent Doug Jones. Prior to that, he was a football coach for over 20 years, leading at various universities including Auburn University and Texas Tech University. That hasn't stopped him, however, from saying things like "there is nobody more military than me."

Tuberville's crude comparison to Smith — currently the 39th Commandant of the Marine Corps who recieved a Purple Heart as a platoon squad leader in Iraq in 2004 — is his latest bizarre comment as scrutiny grows over his unprecedented block on military promotions. Tuberville began his vow to table all votes on officer promotion lists in February 2023 as a protest against the Pentagon's decision to allow service members to receive reimbursement for traveling out of states to receive abortion services — a move by the Department of Defense after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

Since then, some 300 nominees have waited for promotions. The Senate has been promoting a few officers one-by-one, but it's a painfully slow process, leaving vacancies at many of the military's top jobs. The Senate did confirm three top nominees Thursday — Adm. Lisa Franchetti as Chief of Naval Operations, Gen. David Allvin as Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Lt. Gen. Chris Mahoney as Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; Mahoney will likely take on many of Smith's duties for now.

But the individual approval process has left vacant plenty of positions, like those related to areas such as the Middle East; it's also forced some officers, like Smith, to work double-duty. Until the nominees approved Thursday, Smith was the only senior military nominee to make it through the Senate since Tuberville's hold. Before being confirmed, he complained about his intense work schedule, saying he often works from 5am to 11:30pm.

Pentagon officials have said that the hundreds of military vacancies has created "unnecessary and unprecedented" risks for the US.

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