Kenneth Braithwaite, currently the U.S. ambassador to Norway and President Donald Trump’s nominee to become Secretary of the Navy, is scheduled to appear at a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Thursday.
In November, Trump announced his intent to nominate Braithwaite, a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and retired rear admiral, to fill the Navy’s top civilian job. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper suggested Braithwaite for the job after the removal former Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer.
Spencer was fired because Esper lost confidence in him “regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at the time.
The Navy tried reducing Gallagher in rank after being found guilty of posing for a photo with a dead combatant. Trump intervened and restored his rank. Trump also rejected a Navy effort to consider taking away Gallagher’s Trident pin. Spencer’s view on how to manage the crisis differed from what Trump wanted, and Esper wound up asking for Spencer’s resignation.
However, more than three months passed before Trump formally submitted Braithwaite’s name to the Senate for confirmation.
In the intervening months, Spencer’s replacement acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly ended up running into his own crisis when dealing with the fallout from an outbreak of COVID-19 on aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71).
Modly relieved Capt. Brett Crozier, the commanding officer of Theodore Roosevelt, a letter leaked to the media detailing his concerns about the care offered to the carrier’s crew while the Navy sidelined the ship in Guam. However, when videos flooded social media platforms showing Theodore Roosevelt’s crew giving Crozier a hero’s sendoff, Modly flew to Guam and gave a speech disparaging Crozier.
Modly resigned shortly after the speech. The Navy has since opened an expanded investigation into the circumstances surrounding Crozier’s removal from command.
Now, almost six months after first being announced, and after two acting secretaries filled the Navy’s top civilian job, Braithwait is poised to answer SASC member questions about his record. In uniform, Braithwaite first flew anti-submarine missions in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, according to his Navy bio. Braithwaite transferred to the public affairs community in 1988. He served aboard USS America (CV-66) and as the chief of public affairs for Naval Base Philadelphia.
His final assignment was as the Navy’s Vice Chief of Information, the principal Navy Reserve liaison and advisor to the Chief of Information.
Between 2004 and 2007, Braithwaite served as the commander of joint public affairs support element-reserve (JPASE-R). Before becoming ambassador to Norway, Braithwaite was a lobbyist for the hospital and healthcare industry.
The Senate is operating under special rules put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The hearing will be streamed online but will not be open to the public. Only credentialed members of the press and official business visitors will be permitted into the hearing room, according to the SASC agenda.