Getting a permanent secretary on the job took on new urgency as the Navy’s handling of the coronavirus’ spread aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt resulted in acting Secretary Thomas Modly’s resignation last month. James McPherson, a retired rear admiral and the undersecretary of the Army, has filled the job since Modly stepped down.
Braithwaite cruised through a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing this month and pulled few punches in criticizing the service for some of its most high-profile fiascoes — including the handling of the coronavirus aboard the Roosevelt, a pair of ship collisions that killed 17 sailors in 2017 and the Fat Leonard corruption scandal that has plagued Navy leadership for nearly a decade.
Braithwaite called the Navy’s culture “tarnished” and blamed poor leadership for many of those woes.
“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters, due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” Braithwaite told the committee.
Braithwaite was also dogged by questions about his involvement with defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. CBS News reported that Braithwaite failed to disclose a contract with the firm when he was nominated to be ambassador to Norway.
Cambridge Analytica shut down in 2018 amid revelations it improperly harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target voters for the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
He denied entering into a formal contract with the company and no senators asked about it during his confirmation hearing.
Braithwaite also endorsed the goal of growing the fleet to “minimally 355 ships.” The Navy is expected to push for an even larger fleet that incorporates more unmanned vessels, but the goal is lofty given Pentagon leaders’ pessimistic outlook on future growth in defense spending.
Aside from Braithwaite, the Senate did not confirm several other senior Pentagon nominees before departing for the rest of month, including Gen. Charles Q. Brown to be the next Air Force chief of staff.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set up procedural votes for June on two civilian nominees — James Anderson to be the No. 2 Pentagon policy official and Victor Mercado to be an assistant secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities. McConnell blamed Democrats for forcing senators to confirm them “the hard way.”
“Our Democratic colleagues would not allow us to fill several more posts at the Pentagon,” McConnell said Thursday afternoon.
“So as sadly has become the norm, the Senate will be spending floor time and multiple roll call votes” on mid-level nominees, McConnell complained.