The Senate confirmed Gen. Eric Smith to lead the Marine Corps on Thursday, filling the last of the positions for which Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called votes after Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama had placed a monthslong hold on military nominations.
Smith has been serving a dual role as the acting and assistant commandant for the Marine Corps since his predecessor stepped down in July, leaving the service without a confirmed leader for the first time in 164 years. Schumer filed for cloture to eventually vote on Smith after Tuberville announced enough Republican backing to force a vote to confirm Smith on Tuesday, circumventing his own blanket procedural hold on top military promotions.
Smith was confirmed 96 to zero,according to the U.S. Senate Periodical Press Gallery.
Smith said the promotion holds undermined the Marine Corps’ readiness while being careful to avoid referencing Tuberville by name, according to The Washington Post. Attending to the duties of the commandant and assistant to the commandant strained his personal bandwidth, allowing some things to fall through the cracks, he told the Marine Corps Times.
Schumer had previously punted responsibility for resolving the impasse over Tuberville’s hold to Republicans, despite having the ability to invoke the time-consuming process of voting on individual nominations.
Schumer finally moved to schedule votes on individual nominees for three vacant positions at the very top of the military chain of command on Wednesday. The Senate confirmed U.S. Air Force Gen. C. Q. Brown as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Wednesday, and Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff on Thursday.
Like Brown and George, Smith will also lack a vice chief. The nominee to be the Navy’s top military leader told Congress Thursday it could take “years” to untangle military promotions as a result of Tuberville’s blockade. Schumer did not file cloture to vote on confirming the Navy chief of operations position, equivalent to the commandant on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, leaving that position still vacant.
As assistant to the commandant, Smith played a key role in advancing former commandant Gen. David Berger’s signature plans to overhaul the Marine Corps under the assumption of a future need to fight with China. Smith will likely shepherd that project, known as Force Design 2030, through the same institutional pushback Berger received from retired Marine Corps leaders. However, Berger, and now Smith, argue that the dramatic changes called for in Force Design 2030 are necessary to deter China and, if called for, defend the U.S.
“Force Design 2030 … is an effort to modernize the Marine Corps after 15 years of being focused on counterinsurgency operations. It focuses on state-on-state conflict and simultaneously retaining our global crisis response force, combined arms, global expeditionary capabilities,” Smith told the Senate during his confirmation hearing in June. “Force Design 2030 is in a good place.”
As acting commandant, Smith also overhauled the Marine Corps’ safety office after a string of deadly aviation accidents and basic training casualties.
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