Senate panel advances Navy secretary nominee

Senate panel advances Navy secretary nominee
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The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved the nomination of Kenneth Braithwaite to be secretary of the Navy, the committee said Tuesday.

In a voice vote Tuesday, the committee advanced Braithwaite’s nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

In confirmed, Braithwaite would become the Navy’s top civilian official as the service manages fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that has sidelined a powerful aircraft carrier for two months.

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Braithwaite, currently the U.S. ambassador to Norway, would also be the first confirmed Navy secretary since former Secretary Richard Spencer was ousted in November.

In his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Braithwaite pledged to restore a culture of good order and discipline in a service he described as being in “rough waters” after a “failure of leadership.”

“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.

The Navy has come under sharp criticism for its coronavirus response after the outbreak onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier that infected more than 1,000 sailors.

The previous commander of the ship, Capt. Brett Crozier, was fired after a letter he wrote warning about the outbreak leaked in the media. The acting Navy secretary who fired him, Thomas Modly, subsequently resigned after flying to Guam to give a speech aboard the ship’s loudspeakers berating Crozier.

The Navy conducted a preliminary investigation into the situation on the Roosevelt, resulting in a recommendation to reinstate Crozier. But current acting Secretary James McPherson ordered a more in-depth probe, effectively delaying a decision on Crozier’s fate.

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At his hearing, Braithwaite said he supported the decision to open a broader inquiry.

The Roosevelt scandal came months after the Navy was rocked by President Trump’s decision to intervene in Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s discipline for being convicted in the military justice system of posing with the corpse of an ISIS fighter, an episode that ended with Spencer’s ouster.

In addition to the Roosevelt and Gallagher firestorms, the Navy weathered ship collisions in 2017 that killed 17 sailors and the ongoing Fat Leonard corruption scandal in which several top officers were accused of accepting bribes from contractor Glenn Defense Marine Asia head Leonard Glenn Francis.

“Whether Glenn Marine Defense, the ship collisions in 2017, judicial missteps or the crisis recently aboard USS Roosevelt, they are all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service,” Braithwaite said.

In addition to Braithwaite, the Senate Armed Services Committee also advanced by voice vote Tuesday the nomination of Gen. Charles Brown to be the next Air Force Chief of Staff. If confirmed, Brown, currently the commander of Pacific Air Forces, would be the the nation's first African American military service chief.