First woman to lead Navy takes over in acting capacity as Senate confirmation battle drags on

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Navy Admiral Lisa Franchetti is the first woman to lead a military branch in an acting capacity under the Defense Department, following a ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy on Monday. 

President Biden nominated Adm. Franchetti to serve as chief of naval operations in July, but Franchetti will serve in an acting capacity until officially confirmed by the Senate. If confirmed, Franchetti would be the first woman to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Franchetti is now one of 300 military officers whose nominations are held up in the Senate following a hold from Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville. The U.S. Navy is the third branch without a Senate-confirmed leader, following the ‘relinquishment of office’ ceremony for Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Monday. 

Gilday’s relinquishment followed both the retirement and relinquishment from Army Chief Gen. James McConville earlier this month and then-Commandant of the Marine Corps David Berger in July.

Tuberville’s hold is over the Pentagon’s post-Dobbs abortion policy, established earlier this year. The Pentagon’s new policy pays for the travel and time off service members must take to receive abortions if the state where they are stationed does not allow the procedure. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley have both called Tuberville’s hold a national security concern.

‘This is unprecedented. It is unnecessary, and it is unsafe, and this sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness,’ Austin said in his remarks Monday.

During the relinquishment of command, Franchetti read, ‘When there is a vacancy in the office of the chief of naval operations, the vice chief of naval operations shall perform the duties of the CNO until its successor is appointed.’

Tuberville’s office responded Monday by saying the senator was ‘not blocking votes — he’s forcing votes.’

On Aug. 2, Austin issued a memo on how the military could ‘mitigate the disruption’ of the hold. One way would be by having military leaders postpone retirement; another would see military leaders in acting capacities fulfilling their old roles at the same time, essentially doing two jobs at once.

The now-retired Gilday spoke to Franchetti’s qualifications for the job. 

‘She is a war fighter with combat experience. She’s an operational leader. She’s a strategist. She’s an innovator. She’s a team builder. She’s a trailblazer. She’s an example of personal and professional resilience and a testament to the power of the American dream to inspire service and sacrifice,’ Gilday said.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said it’s ‘well past time’ for the Senate to address the outstanding nominations.

‘The American people deserve to have their best military leaders in place, and in our Department of the Navy that includes a confirmed chief of naval operations and commandant of the Marine Corps,’ Del Toro added.

Tuberville’s office earlier this month pointed out that the hold ‘does not prevent anyone from being confirmed.’

It would take more than 650 hours to confirm all 300-plus officers if the Senate were to vote one-by-one.

Franchetti was commissioned in 1985 and served as the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea, director of Strategy, Plans and Policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief of naval operations for warfighting development; she also led two carrier strike groups. Just several weeks into leading the U.S. 6th fleet, Franchetti oversaw the first-ever Tomahawk missile strike by a Virginia-class submarine. She became the vice chief of naval operations in 2022.

Franchetti has received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal (two awards), Legion of Merit (five awards), Meritorious Service Medal (five awards), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (four awards) and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards), according to her official bio.

The Joint Chiefs chairman is another position that could go unfilled when the current chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, retires, if Tuberville continues the hold. Milley is expected to retire in October when his term comes to an end.

Fox News’ Aishah Hasnie contributed to this report.

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