The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gen. Eric Smith to serve as the next Commandant of the Marine Corps.
After several months of delays due to an ongoing hold on military confirmations, the upper chamber confirmed Smith to serve as the Marine Corps’ top officer in 96-0 vote, as well as Gen. Randy George to serve as the next chief of staff of the Army in a 96-1 vote.
The confirmation votes come after the Wednesday confirmation of Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a 83-11 vote.
The three confirmations break into a backlog of military nominations due to an ongoing dispute over a Pentagon policy related to abortion services.
In February, Sen. Tommy Tubervile (R-Ala.) put a hold on unanimous consent for military nominations due to a Defense Department policy that allows service members to get reimbursed for travel expenses when they go out of state for abortion care or other non-covered services like in vitro fertilization. The senator argues the policy violates the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits any federal funds from going toward abortion services.
More than 300 general and flag officer military nominations across the service branches are pending confirmation. The unanimous consent hold prevents the Senate from approving large numbers of nominations in groups.
Until this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to take up individual nominees for votes on the Senate floor. But on Wednesday, Schumer filed for cloture on the nominations of Smith, George and Brown after Tuberville reportedly planned to push for a vote on Smith’s nomination.
“Sen. Schumer is showing exactly what he could have been doing with our military nominations months and months ago, and yet refused to do that,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said at a news conference on Wednesday.
If the Senate focused only on nominations and did not conduct any other business, it would take the upper chamber about 89 days to approve 273 nominations, provided lawmakers work an eight-hour work day, according to an Aug. 23 memo from the Congressional Research Service.
The Army, Navy and Marine Corps have had acting leaders at the helm of each service due to the stalled promotions.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti told Congress last week that it could take months for the Navy to recover from the backlog of promotions.
“I think just at the three-star level, it would take about three to four months to move all of the people around, but it will take years to recover from the promotion – if confirmed – for the promotion delays that we would see forward,” Franchetti told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Franchetti is also currently performing the duties of the chief of naval operations as she waits for the Senate to take up her nomination to serve as the next CNO.