Adm. Lisa Franchetti has served in the U.S. military for 40 years, and has served as Vice Chief of Naval Operations since September 2022. (Credit: U.S. Navy, Picryl)

On Monday, Admiral Lisa Franchetti was set to be sworn in as the first woman to head the Navy after being nominated by President Joe Biden to replace Admiral Michael Gilday as Chief of Naval Operations, or CNO. Instead, her confirmation has been blocked indefinitely as part of one senator’s unrelated protest against abortion policy within the military.

Since February, Republican senator Tommy Tuberville has been holding up hundreds of military confirmations. His goal, he said, is to overturn the Pentagon policy of granting leave and travel expenses for military personnel who cannot obtain an abortion in the state where they are stationed. While he initially agreed to release his hold if the Senate held a vote on the issue, he now says he will not release his hold until the Pentagon rescinds the policy altogether.

Now, for the first time in U.S. history, interim officers are filling three of the eight seats on the Pentagon’s board of most senior military officials. While Franchetti will be legally able to perform her duties as an acting CNO, she will be unable to implement any of her own policies until she is confirmed. 

At the Monday ceremony marking Franchetti’s unofficial induction, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke out against Tuberville’s actions. “This is unprecedented. It is unnecessary. And it is unsafe,” he said, speaking at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. “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.”

In her 40 years in the military and nearly one year as vice CNO, Franchetti has earned the respect of countless colleagues, including her former commanding officer Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, who retired in 2017. “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,” Tyson told WHRO Public Media

Tyson and Franchetti are both part of the first generation of women who were able to ascend the military ranks, as Congress only repealed combat exclusion laws that prevented women from serving in combat ships and aircraft between 1992 and 1994.

Even in nominating her last month, Biden had said Franchetti “demonstrated extensive expertise in both the operational and policy arenas.”

However, her appointment as first female member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is now overshadowed by Tuberville’s protest of abortion policy – a wholly unrelated matter. Biden has called Tuberville’s holds “totally irresponsible” and said they threaten national security. It is unknown how long the holds will last.