Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti during a visit to the USS Tripoli in San Diego, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. | Danian C. Douglas/U.S. Navy
President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Adm. Lisa Franchetti to lead the Navy, which would make her the first woman to serve as a member of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff if she is confirmed.
Franchetti would replace Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, whose four-term year ends this fall.
But Franchetti will quickly join a nomination logjam in the Senate, as Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is single-handedly blocking more than 270 military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy.
With no obvious resolution to the blockade in sight, top nominations are stacking up. The Senate Armed Services Committee this week sent the nominee for Army chief, Gen. Randy George, and for Joint Chiefs chair, Gen. C.Q. Brown, to the full Senate for consideration. The head of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, has already retired, leaving Assistant Marine Commandant Gen. Eric Smith as the temporary chief until he is confirmed as commandant.
The Senate is set to recess at the end of next week for a month, leaving virtually no time for her confirmation process to play out before Gilday steps down next month, assuring a gap atop Navy leadership that Franchetti will fill on an acting basis.
Franchetti currently serves as vice chief of naval operations, the Navy’s No. 2. She has spent her career in surface warships, is only the second woman to hold the office of vice chief, and is one of only a handful of women who have risen to the rank of four-star officer in the U.S. military.
By choosing Franchetti for the job, Biden overruled Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recommended a different officer for the job: Adm. Samuel Paparo, who leads the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Also on Friday, Biden announced that he’s nominating Paparo to move up to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Vice Adm. James Kilby to replace Franchetti as vice chief of naval operations, and Vice Adm. Stephen “Web” Koehler to replace Paparo at Pacific Fleet.
On Friday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president worked the latest slate of nominees “together” with the defense secretary, and he does not believe there is any daylight between the two on the decision.
“We think we’ve hit the jackpot with this set of leaders,” Sullivan told POLITICO on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum. “The president had the chance to sit with the secretary of defense and they worked the slate together.”
The White House announcement also referenced Tuberville’s hold.
“Given the national security challenges we face around the world, I urge the Senate to move quickly in confirming them, along with the other military nominations currently on hold,” Biden said. “These leadership positions are far too important to delay filling while one Senator prioritizes his domestic political agenda over our military readiness.”
Biden last year also chose a woman, Adm. Linda Fagan, to head the Coast Guard. Fagan is not a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because the Coast Guard operates under the Department of Homeland Security.
Franchetti spoke with CBS News in March about her experience facing sexism in the ranks, in a joint interview with her female counterparts. On her first deployment, her boss told her she wasn’t welcome.
“He made it very clear to me that he didn’t think women should be on our ship and he was going to make sure that I did not succeed,” Franchetti said.
In response: “I just worked harder,” she said.
Franchetti previously served as director for strategy, plans and policy on the Joint Staff and commanded the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, which is based in Naples, Italy, and covers Europe and Africa.
She is a native of Rochester, N.Y., and received a bachelor of science in journalism from Northwestern University, where she also got her commission in 1985 through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps Program.
Franchetti will turn over leadership of a service that has been heavily criticized by Congress and has multiple shipbuilding plans wrested from its control by the Pentagon, which was frustrated by the lack of growth in the fleet.
The Navy has been unable to budge the size of the fleet since declaring a 355-ship goal in 2016, and will actually shrink over much of the rest of the decade before starting to climb in the 2030s, if current plans hold.
It will be a tough path forward however, with the new debt ceiling compromise struck between the White House and Congress capping defense spending for the next two years just as the Navy has some big bills coming due.
It has just started building the first of a new class of ballistic missile submarines, which will carry the bulk of the nation’s nuclear strike capability and will eat up a considerable portion of the shipbuilding budget. She will also have to grapple with what to do with the failed Littoral Combat Ship program, an experiment by the Navy in building small, light ships that was supposed to perform multiple missions.
Despite ordering 38 ships, the Navy has already started retiring the first batch of LCS hulls, some just four years old, a move that has infuriated many in Congress.
Franchetti will also have to shepherd in several new classes of uncrewed ships, which the Navy has struggled to design and develop under Gilday’s tenure, as well as attempting to find more shipyards that can maintain and repair warships and get them out to the fleet more quickly, something Gilday and his predecessors have also grappled with with varying degrees of success.
Alexander Ward and Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.