By Megan Mowery
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s second pick to be the top civilian authority overseeing the U.S. Navy sailed through his confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously agreed to support Richard Spencer for the role, and his nomination is expected to reach the full Senate for consideration by August.
Spencer spent the hearing emphasizing his 36 years of business experience and service as a Marine helicopter pilot. He agreed with committee members on top issues, including the need to remove federal budget caps that officials say have negatively impacted military readiness and cost overruns in weapons systems.
Spencer testified that the Navy cannot reach its goal of a 355-ship fleet with the Budget Control Act, which set limits on spending by the federal government, in place. Further, he said, lawmakers shouldn’t get held up on the number 355 and that emerging technologies could create a Navy just as strong at 350 ships.
“The Budget Control Act has wreaked havoc on our readiness, the impacts on the lives of our sailors and Marines,” Spencer said.
Another area of emphasis during the hearing was cost overruns on expensive Pentagon programs, like the Ford-class aircraft carrier and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, questioned Spencer on how he plans to solve the issue.
“Senator, my career has been steeped in accountability, and I can tell you right now the accountability starts right here,” Spencer said.
Keeping with Navy tradition and stepping away from the Trump administration’s policies, Spencer acknowledged the realities of climate change in a response to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). He acknowledged the damage rising water levels can inflict on the Navy’s infrastructure.
“Senator, the Navy, in my briefings, is totally aware of rising water issues, storm issues, et cetera,” Spencer said. “We must protect our infrastructure and I will work hard to make sure that we are keeping an eye on that because without the infrastructure, we lose readiness.”
Spencer also touched on another hot-button issue of the Trump presidency: the U.S.-Russia relationship.
“Russia is a threat in many ways to this country…We have to stand strong, we have to have avenues of communication open with our adversaries,” Spencer said. “When it comes to professional actions on the seas, one would hope that in the military sector there is professionalism that spreads to even our adversaries that we can have communications in that regard.”
Spencer, who is currently managing director of Fall Creek Management, a consulting firm in Wyoming, has faced an easier path to nomination than many other Trump military nominees.
Philip Bilden, Trump’s first choice for Navy Secretary, withdrew from consideration of the position because of financial interests that he would have had to divest from. Vincent Viola, Trump’s first nominee for Army Secretary, also declined due to business ties, and Mark Green, Trump’s second pick, withdrew after criticism of his views towards LGBT and Muslim persons.