U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Eric Smith has been hospitalized since Sunday, Oct. 29, after experiencing a medical emergency.
The Marine Corps revealed Gen. Smith’s hospitalization in a press release on the evening of Oct. 30 but provided no additional details on the nature of his medical emergency. The incident comes just over a month after Gen. Smith, 58, received confirmation from the U.S. Senate to serve as the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Gen. Smith’s medical emergency once again leaves the service without a Senate-confirmed chief of staff amid an ongoing delay in the Senate confirmation process. For months, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has placed a hold on the Senate confirmation schedule, barring the legislative body from using unanimous consent rules to rapidly approve large numbers of military promotions and nominations. Mr. Tuberville has maintained the hold as a means of pressuring the Biden administration and its Department of Defense to withdraw a policy that reimburses DOD personnel for abortion-related travel.
Prior to his full Senate confirmation on Sept. 22, Gen. Smith had served as the Commandant of the Marine Corps in an acting capacity since July 10. While Mr. Tuberville’s hold has blocked the Senate from confirming military nominations in bulk, the Senate can still confirm such nominations one by one. Gen. Smith was one of three military nominations that the Democratic Senate majority has allowed to go through in single-nominee votes, but more than 300 other military officers are still awaiting a Senate decision.
While the Senate confirmed Gen. Smith to serve as Commandant of the Marine Corps, other top leadership positions in the Marine Corps and other military branches have remained unfilled, including the position of Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. Amid the vacancies and delays in the confirmation process, Gen. Smith has had to perform the duties of both the Marine Corps commandant and assistant commandant.
Lt. Gen. Christopher Mahoney has been nominated for the assistant commandant position but the Senate still has yet to confirm him. With Gen. Smith’s medical emergency and the existing vacancy of the assistant commandant position, the duties of the commandant have been conferred to the next most senior officer in the Marine Corps.
“Due to the vacancy in the Office of the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, in accordance with 10 U.S.C. § 8044, the most senior officer of the Marine Corps in the Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, is performing the duties of the Commandant,” the military service announced on Monday evening.
It remains to be seen if Gen. Smith will be able to return to perform his duties as commandant.
NTD News reached out for additional details about the commandant’s medical episode and current status, but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.
Hold on Military Nominations Continues
Mr. Tuberville has maintained his hold on the military nomination process for months, insisting the DOD’s abortion travel policy runs afoul of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from going toward abortions, except in cases where a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or a pregnancy comes about as a result of rape or incest.
The DOD adopted the new abortion policy following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the court ruled states could regulate various aspects of abortion not already covered under federal law.
Following the Supreme Court decision, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that military service members in certain states could struggle to obtain abortions from themselves or their dependents under the new legal precedent. The DOJ determined that the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on the use of federal funds for abortions does not cover transportation costs associated with obtaining such abortions. The DOD in turn announced it would provide a travel allowance for “non-covered reproductive health care” and service members would not be charged from their leave allowance for the travel time they take, though the service member would still have to pay for the actual abortion procedure.
Mr. Tuberville has faced pressure to end the holds, amid a growing list of vacant military leadership positions and rising global tensions. He has insisted he will maintain his hold on bulk confirmations of military nominees until the Biden administration either withdraws the abortion travel policy or Congress changes the law to clearly allow federal funds to go to abortion-related travel.
Mr. Tuberville and some other Senate Republicans have supported one-off military confirmation votes and have focused on filing vacancies among the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Senate Democrats have been reluctant to rely on these one-off confirmation votes, warning that it would take weeks of Senate floor time to clear the backlog of pending military nominations.