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Adm. Franchetti, first woman nominated to run the Navy, held up over abortion protest

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Who are the people affected by a protest over abortion policy within the military? One senator is holding up hundreds of military confirmations to impose his policy view. One of them is Admiral Lisa Franchetti, who is set to become the first woman to head the Navy. She steps into the role in an acting capacity today. Steve Walsh of WHRO in Norfolk, Va., sends us this story.

NORA TYSON: I think we both would say we were very fortunate in our timing.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Retired Vice Admiral Nora Tyson was Admiral Lisa Franchetti's commanding officer in 2016. Both were part of a first generation of women who were able to rise through the ranks after the Navy allowed women to begin serving on-board combat vessels. Before 1993, it would be nearly impossible for a woman to gain the experience to be considered for the Navy's top jobs.

TYSON: I had no doubt that she had the potential and she could end up in this job or any other job that the Navy asked her to do.

WALSH: Franchetti is nominated by the Biden administration to be the chief of naval operations, or CNO. It would also make her the first woman to serve as a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president overruled the choice of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Some critics pounced on that. Tyson says all the top candidates are highly qualified.

TYSON: There are going to be naysayers that say, you know, what are we doing putting a woman in that position? And you just want to say stop. Just stop. You know, she's either qualified or she isn't. And I think she's one of the most qualified people that we could put in that position.

WALSH: Franchetti graduated with a journalism degree from Northwestern. Over a nearly 40-year career, she was commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea and Sixth Fleet in Europe before taking over the No. 2 job in the Navy. She talked about being a consensus builder during a Q&A session last year, as she wrapped up her tenure running the influential policy office for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LISA FRANCHETTI: And I think that's the one thing that I've really enjoyed is being able to have candid conversations. We may think one thing and they think a different thing. OK. How - is there a middle ground?

WALSH: Leadership of the Navy is complex and sprawling and comes with huge logistical demands. Retired CNO Admiral John Richardson thinks Franchetti is the right choice. He recalls watching her tirelessly work a military gathering in Washington, D.C.

JOHN RICHARDSON: She went to this event and really stayed there until she had basically had a chance to talk to everybody who was in the room. You know, I think that that's just really characteristic of what Admiral Franchetti stands for as a leader.

WALSH: The CNO handles everything from how the Navy will work with NATO and Ukraine to countering the rise of China, to recruiting new sailors and tackling maintenance delays hampering the fleet, Richardson says. Franchetti's confirmation is being held up over an unrelated protest of the Pentagon's policy on abortion. It pays for women to travel to states where those services are legal. The move is spearheaded by Senator Tommy Tuberville. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says Franchetti is one of roughly 300 top leaders waiting for a vote. Kaine says the Republican from Alabama declined a chance to call the issue to a vote in the Senate.

TIM KAINE: If this was really a matter of principle and conviction for him, you would think he would have wanted to stand on the floor and offer it as a vote. So we don't yet have the endgame on this.

WALSH: In the meantime, Franchetti will take over as acting CNO when the current one steps down today. Bryan Clark with the Hudson Institute says the problem for leaders like Franchetti is they can't really put their stamp on the job until they're confirmed.

BRYAN CLARK: None of those changes are going to really be implemented until you get new leaders in place because the current leaders are all acting, and they're going to feel like they're not in power to move beyond what their predecessor did.

WALSH: Making Franchetti's historic appointment just that much more challenging, Clark adds.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Walsh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Walsh