The Marine Corps Is Leaderless Because a Senator Is Mad About Abortion

Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP

Senator Tommy Tuberville has vowed for months to block nominations from the Department of Defense in response to a policy change that would expand abortion access for service members. Now, as one military branch is set to lose its top commanders and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to retirement, the Alabama Republican has still shown no signs of moving on his pledge.

General David Berger, the 38th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, officially stepped down from his post on Monday after serving in that role since being appointed by President Donald Trump in 2019. He is set to be replaced by General Eric Smith, who has worked alongside him as assistant commandant for the Marine Corps. But Smith’s nomination to the top spot is one of a few hundred currently being blocked in the Senate by Tuberville’s hold, forcing the branch to go forward with Smith as acting commandant and no Senate-confirmed leader.

In his remarks at Berger’s farewell, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin alluded to the hold on nominations, noting that it’s been more than a century since the Marine Corps operated without a leader confirmed by the Senate. Without naming Tuberville directly, Austin said that everyone is looking forward to a “rapid confirmation” of Berger’s successor.

“Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States, and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history,” he said.

In October 2022, the Department of Defense announced it would cover travel expenses and provide time off for servicemembers who were seeking an abortion. Shortly thereafter, Tuberville wrote a letter to Austin, calling the policy “immoral” and saying he would place a hold on “all future DoD civilian and general/flag officer nominations.”

By CNN’s count, more than 200 Defense nominations are currently paused in Congress. The issue will only increase in urgency in the coming months as other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s top uniformed military leaders, are set to leave their roles. General James McConville, the Army chief of staff, and Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, are due to retire in August. General Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also set to step down in the fall.

The Marine Corps Is Leaderless Because of One Senator