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Army’s McPherson To Be New Navy Leader; Modly Submits Resignation « Breaking Defense

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Thomas Modly, acting Secretary of the Navy, receives a briefing on the progress of USS Gerald R. Ford.

[This story has been updated]

WASHINGTON: A day after he caused an outcry over an incendiary speech aboard the USS Teddy Roosevelt, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned today, a senior defense official confirms.

Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson will take over as the new acting secretary of the Navy, a second defense official confirmed.  McPherson was acting Army undersecretary until being confirmed by the Senate March 23. 

Modly had been under fire since firing the ship’s skipper last week, telling the crew Monday their captain was “stupid” for sending up an alarm over a COVID-19 outbreak aboard the carrier.

In a scathing assessment of the speech earlier today, House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith said the speech “was kind of like he was trying to do a half-assed impression of how Donald Trump would give a speech.”

Smith hastened to add that he respected Modly and has worked well with him, but is concerned the overall culture of the Trump administration led the secretary to act in a way he thought the president would approve.

“After that speech on the carrier, I just don’t see how he can lead the Navy,” Smith told reporters in a conference call today. 

Smith joined a chorus of other Democratic lawmakers calling for Modly’s ouster after a speech Monday in which he chastised the crew of the COVID-19 stricken aircraft carrier, ripped into the ship’s captain he just fired, and told the crew the media was out to embarrass them. The talk was meant for the thousands of sailors on the ship, but several of them recorded the ship-wide message and leaked it to the press. 

Smith said he still has confidence in Defense Secretary Mark Esper, but wishes he “would have taken a stronger hand” with Modly when he brought his idea to fire the captain to him.  

The atmosphere surrounding the White House is one where “Trump wants sycophants” working for him, Smith said. “What he cares about is people kissing his ass.” That, he thinks, led Modly to consider how the president would react to his remarks aboard the ship.

Modly told the Washington Post over the weekend he didn’t want the situation on the Roosevelt to rise to the president’s desk, possibly leading to another instance when Trump inserts himself in internal Navy personnel matters as he did last year in the case of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Referencing that interview, Smith said, “the most chilling aspect of that is [Modly] seemed to be saying, ‘look, I know what I should have done. But what I had to do was I had to think, what would president want me to do?’” 

According to figures released by the Navy today, 79 percent of the Roosevelt’s crew have been tested for COVID-19, with 230 positive cases. A total of 2,037 other sailors have tested negative, and 1,999 Sailors have moved ashore as the ship sits in port in Guam.

Smith said the committee should be able to move ahead with the 2021 NDAA. The plan is for the Armed Services committee to get the bill ready by May, then “freeze dry” it until they can hold a markup and move toward votes this fall. 

“Yes, it is more complicated to juggle all that when you’re not in regular contact with the other members, but we’re going to work through it and press forward,” Smith said.

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