April 23, 2024

The Alabama senator responsible for a blockade on military confirmations said he was working Tuesday to finally approve the Marine Corps‘ No. 2 leader as the commandant, Gen. Eric Smith, remained hospitalized following a medical emergency Sunday.

The move by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville comes a day after the Marines announced that a three-star officer further down the line of succession would step into Smith’s role due to a leadership vacuum at the very top of the service. The assistant commandant position has remained vacant because Tuberville has stopped the Senate from approving military promotions and confirmations — outside of some top officers — for most of the year.

The Senate blockade became a major issue after Smith was hospitalized suddenly on Sunday evening and the service had no confirmed assistant commandant to take his place. The Marine Corps provided no update on Smith’s condition Tuesday, despite news reports that he had suffered a heart attack and statements from emergency responders of a cardiac arrest incident near his residence.

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While Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney was nominated to be assistant commandant of the Marines in July, the Senate has been unable to confirm him because Tuberville is single-handedly holding up all general and admiral promotions in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy.

Before his medical emergency, Smith had effectively been forced to fill both roles due to the hold.

Despite his effort to get Mahoney approved, Tuberville insisted Tuesday that he is not dropping his larger hold and continued to deny that his actions are affecting the military’s ability to be ready for a war, arguing that “people are doing their jobs.”

But he also acknowledged that Smith’s medical issue prompted him to rethink the assistant commandant position. He is using a procedural maneuver known as a cloture petition that allows a senator to force a vote on a nominee if they get the support of at least 16 of their colleagues. It’s the same tactic Tuberville used in September that forced Democrats to hold roll call votes on Smith, the Army chief of staff and the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff after months of resistance.

Tuberville said he already has the requisite 16 signatures to force a vote on Mahoney.

Meanwhile, Maj. Jim Stenger, the head spokesperson for the headquarters of the Marine Corps, told Military.com that Smith was still in the hospital Tuesday afternoon. The service did not give any new details of Smith’s medical emergency, which the Corps initially announced Monday.

The New York Times, USA Today and USNI News, which cited anonymous current or former defense officials, said that Smith suffered a heart attack. Military.com could not independently confirm those reports.

A spokesperson for District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services told Military.com that a man collapsed during a run due to cardiac arrest in southeast Washington, D.C., on Sunday evening, though they did not identify him as Smith. USA Today reported that he was jogging near Marine Barracks Washington.

“I can confirm that D.C. Fire and EMS responded to a cardiac arrest in the area of 7th and G Street SE at 4:58 on Sunday,” Noah Gray, chief communications officer for DC Fire and EMS, told Military.com on Tuesday.

“Bystanders called 911 and began CPR after witnessing an adult male collapse on the sidewalk while running. Our EMTs and paramedics performed high-performance CPR on the patient and transported him to a nearby hospital. We cannot confirm or comment on the identity of the patient,” he said.

Even before Smith’s medical issue, there have been a flurry of efforts recently to get around Tuberville’s hold. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is also circulating a cloture petition to force votes on Gen. David Allvin to be chief of staff of the Air Force and Adm. Lisa Franchetti to be the Navy‘s chief of naval operations.

Sullivan said Tuesday he was still pressing forward on that effort.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been exploring a temporary change to Senate rules that would allow them to consider most of the nominations caught in Tuberville’s hold in a batch vote. Such a change would require at least nine Republicans to go along with the plan — an unlikely prospect.

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters Monday that 378 general and flag officer nominations are held up right now in the Senate.

Democrats argued Tuesday that Smith’s health scare underscores the importance of getting all the stalled nominees confirmed.

“It also illustrates the pressure that these people are on, working from 5 a.m. to 11 o’clock,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Tuesday before Tuberville announced his cloture petition, alluding to the schedule Smith previously said he was working in order to do two jobs at once. “This nonsense about anybody can do the job and it’s just easy and acting is fine — this just completely undercuts that.”

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, who will serve as acting commandant while Smith is hospitalized, made a statement Tuesday in an attempt to reassure the service and the public.

“In typical Marine fashion, I am the next Marine up. This is what we do, as so many have done before us throughout the history of our Corps,” Heckl said in the statement. “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 said.

Smith’s last public appearance before his hospitalization was at the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. The service released images of the commandant clapping and cheering on racers, including his senior enlisted counterpart, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz released a video statement Monday after the Corps notified the public of Smith’s hospitalization.

“Our commandant, Gen. Smith, experienced a medical emergency and is currently receiving care at a local hospital,” Ruiz said, addressing Marines. “I know that all Marines will join me in wishing Gen. Smith a swift recovery so he can return to duty. I also know that Marines across our Corps are professional warfighters, who will remain focused on the important work each of you are doing every day.”

He said that Heckl would take over due to a “vacancy” in the assistant commandant’s position.

“Since taking our seats, the commandant and I have emphasized discipline, professionalism and conduct,” he added. “And that doesn’t change today, or what we do tomorrow.”

— Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.

— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on X @df_lawrence.

Related: Marine Corps Commandant Hospitalized Due to Medical Emergency, Service Says

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