Biden Risks Leaving Top Navy Role Empty — But Blasts GOP Senator For Blocking Top Marine Nominee

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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A second top military post could be left vacant within weeks as President Joe Biden stalls in nominating a successor while attacking a Republican senator for blocking the Marine Corps’ top officer position.

Biden called Republican Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on military promotions, which left the Marine Corps’ top position technically unoccupied as of Monday, a threat to national security. Now, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday is set to retire on August 22, and while Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recommended a replacement more than one month ago, Biden’s unexplained delay in sending his nomination of successor to the Senate could result in the position becoming unoccupied, U.S. Naval Institute News reported.

If Biden does not make his choice in the coming week, the Senate may not hold a confirmation hearing for the nominee until September, after Gilday’s exit, sources told USNI News. (RELATED: Nominee For Top Military Post Maintains Policies Are Not Racist After Senators Question Race-Based Targets)

The president and other top civilian and uniformed officials in the Department of Defense (DOD) have repeatedly slammed Tuberville’s hold for threatening military readiness by leaving top officers in limbo. Tuberville has only doubled down, insisting that DOD must first walk back a policy permitting servicemembers to receive federal funding for travel to obtain elective abortions that he maintains is a way of skirting the law.

“I’d be willing to talk to him if I thought there’s any possibility of him changing his ridiculous position he has. He’s jeopardizing U.S. security by what he’s doing. I expect the Republican Party to stand up, stand up and do something about it,” Biden said at a press availability Thursday following criticism that he has not engaged the senator one-on-one.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. David Berger relinquished his command of the service on Monday after the statutorily-mandated four years in the post. But, because of Tuberville’s hold, Biden’s pick to become the next Commandant of the Marine Corps is serving in an acting capacity while simultaneously fulfilling the duties of assistant.

However, another Joint Chiefs position could be vacant if Biden does not make a final decision on a successor. Adm. Lisa Franchetti will instead take charge of the Navy on Aug. 22 if nothing else changes, USNI News reported, citing sources in the Navy and Congress.

“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday assumed office Aug. 22, 2019 and is scheduled to complete his four-year term this August. If there is no Senate-confirmed successor, Gilday will relinquish the office to Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti,” top service spokesman Rear Adm. Ryan Perry told USNI News in a Wednesday statement. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recommended Adm. Michael Paparo to replace Gilday in the early days of June, NBC News reported, passing over Franchetti, who was previously seen as the front runner, NBC News first reported. Since the recommendation was made, both DOD and the White House have remained mum.

Austin may have nominated Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, to remove him from the lineup to become commander of IndoPacific Command (INDOPACOM), USNI News reported, citing defense officials familiar with the secretary’s thinking. Traditionally the Pacific Fleet leader enjoyed a high likelihood of moving on to head INDOPACOM, but Austin wants an Army general to have the opportunity.

The White House did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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