GOP senator’s military blockade blamed for general’s health crisis

GOP senator’s military blockade blamed for general’s health crisis

Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of confirmations for new top military officials may have contributed to a Marine general’s health scare, top Democrats now argue.

Mr Tuberville has been blocking the confirmations of new military leaders citing his opposition to the Department of Defense policy of paying for troops needing abortions to travel out of state for reproductive health care services if they are stationed in areas where the procedures have become unavailable following the striking down of the Roe v Wade ruling by the Supreme Court in the summer of 2022.

The blockade has made a number of top-level officers perform several jobs concurrently.

The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Sen Jack Reed of Rhode Island, made the allegation after it was revealed that Gen Eric Smith was taken to hospital on Sunday, where he remains. It’s unclear when he might be sent home.

Gen Smith reportedly suffered a heart attack during a Sunday jog, according to The New York Times.

“One of the reasons, I think contributed to his condition was he was doing two jobs at once,” Mr Reed told Politico. “I’ve read where he was working from 5am to 11pm. As a result, if he had, as is normal, an assistant, he could switch off.”

In a statement to The Independent, Mr Tuberville’s Communications Director Steven Stafford said: “Coach is praying for a swift recovery for General Smith and he has gathered enough signatures on a cloture petition to force Senator Schumer to vote on confirming General Mahoney to be Assistant Commandant.”

The Marine Corps Times reported in September that Gen Smith, the acting Marine commandant as well as the assistant commandant, used to start reading intelligence reports from a secure home setup at 5.30am before arriving at the Pentagon at 7.45am.

“Nobody should feel bad for me,” he told the press on 6 September when the outlet asked about his schedule. “I make plenty of money, and nobody usually yells at me, so that’s good. But it is not a sustainable thing when the last thing you do is flip your computer off at 11:30 at night and you’re getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning.”

Top jobs in the Army, Marines, and Navy are now filled by officers both serving as the acting leaders and as the deputies of their respective branches because of Mr Tuberville’s blockade of more than 300 nominees.

“I don’t mind breaking my own back,” Gen Smith told The Marine Corps Times. “It’s just, I have to make good decisions.”

“Working on five hours of sleep over periods of time, there will be sloppiness,” he noted.

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can opt to hold a vote on individual nominees, he has argued that voting on hundreds of nominees individually instead of en masse would grind the Senate’s other business to a halt.

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Mr Tuberville, a former Alabama college football coach, is asking fellow members to back a sped-up process to confirm Lt Gen Christopher Mahoney to be the second in command of the Marine Corps.

Lt Gen Karsten Heckl, the deputy commandant for combat development and integration, has stepped in as acting commandant following Gen Smith’s hospitalisation.

This means that Lt Gen Heckl will be leading Marine Corps Combat Development Command while he serves as the assistant commandant and the commandant, Politico notes.

Gen Smith was the assistant commandant and the acting commandant before being confirmed for the top job in September.

“In typical Marine fashion, I am the next Marine up,” Lt Gen Heckl said in a Tuesday afternoon statement. “This is what we do, as so many have done before us throughout the history of our Corps. We must continue the march forward on behalf of our fellow Marines and Nation, regardless of the situation or the uncertainty that we may face.”

“That is what our Commandant wants and what the citizens of our Nation require of each and every one of us,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that he doesn’t approve of Mr Tuberville’s blockade and the top Republican in the Senate is one of the Alabamian’s colleagues who’s attempting to convince him to instead block civilian nominees.

“I have been among those trying to convince Sen. Tuberville to express his opposition some other way, by [holding] people who actually make policy as opposed to our military heroes who’ve sworn to stay out of politics,” Mr McConnell said on Tuesday, according to Politico.

Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said that conversations with colleagues about getting around Mr Tuberville’s blockade included Gen Smith’s health.

“We’re talking about … that we have a commandant who’s in the hospital, and we don’t have a vice commandant, so the Marine Corps essentially doesn’t have any leadership,” Mr Kelly said, according to Politico. “I mean, when was the last time that happened?”

“It’s a factor, and we remain concerned and hopeful for the general. But that’s an individual situation that needs to be resolved while we look at the overall picture,” Sen Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, said.

“I am so angry as much as I am saddened that the Marine Corps will be handicapped by the absence of a commandant, potentially,” Democratic Sen Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said.

“The potential as well for an absence in the commandant position just reemphasizes how the Tuberville hold is a desperate threat to our national security,” he added.