By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Navy on Monday became the third branch of the military to no longer have a Senate-confirmed leader for the first time in history, as a Republican senator continues to block military nominations.
Retiring Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday gave up command on Monday. The Navy, Army and Marine Corps are now all without a confirmed leader.
“This is unprecedented. It is unnecessary. And it is unsafe,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a relinquishment ceremony at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, who represents Alabama, has blocked hundreds of military nominations from moving forward, saying the Pentagon is improperly using government funding to cover travel costs for abortions for service members and their dependents.
“This sweeping hold is undermining America’s military readiness. It’s hindering our ability to retain our very best officers and it’s upending the lives of far too many American military families,” Austin added.
President Joe Biden has nominated Admiral Lisa Franchetti to lead the Navy, an historic step that would break a gender barrier in the U.S. military by making her the first woman to command the service and to become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – if and when the Senate confirms her. She will lead the Navy in an acting capacity until then.
After the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a constitutional right to abortion, the Pentagon said it would cover travel costs for service members seeking abortions and up to 21 days off.
Several states have limited abortion access since Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the military argues that women service members cannot choose where they are stationed.
The Senate’s approval of military promotions is usually smooth. Tuberville’s hold cannot prevent the Democratic-majority Senate from voting on any promotion, but it can drastically slow down the process.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Hugh Lawson)