Politics

Inflammatory Comments Delay Confirmation of Retired General to Pentagon Post

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s nomination of a retired general with a history of inflammatory comments to serve in the Pentagon’s top policy job was abruptly postponed on Thursday, as senators from both sides of the aisle indicated an unwillingness to back Anthony J. Tata, a novelist and Fox News commentator.

Half an hour before Mr. Tata’s hearing was set to begin, Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who serves as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, announced that he was delaying it.

“There are many Democrats and Republicans who didn’t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time,” Mr. Inhofe said in a statement. “We didn’t get the required documentation in time; some documents, which we normally get before a hearing, didn’t arrive until yesterday.”

Mr. Inhofe said he talked to Mr. Trump on Wednesday night and told him that “we’re simply out of time with the August recess coming, so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed.”

The nomination of Mr. Tata, a retired Army brigadier general, was in trouble, facing a wall of Democratic opposition and growing concerns from vulnerable Republicans who are up for re-election in November.

At the same time, several senior retired military officers have dropped their support for Mr. Tata. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the former head of the Central Command; Gen. Tony Thomas, the former head of the Special Operations Command; and Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, a former top Air Force general, all asked in June that their names be removed from a letter sent by 36 current and former leaders to the Armed Services Committee backing the nomination.

Mr. Tata’s views, expressed in a series of tweets, strike a jarring note, particularly as the country is seized by a growing movement for change. He called Islam “the most oppressive violent religion” and referred to former President Barack Obama as a “terrorist leader.” He has since apologized for the remarks, which were first reported by CNN.

Mr. Tata was meant to succeed John Rood, who resigned in February at Mr. Trump’s request. Mr. Rood had pushed back on efforts to withhold military aid to Ukraine, a central issue in Mr. Trump’s impeachment hearings. But Mr. Tata’s chances look bleak now, congressional staff members said.

One Republican on the armed services panel, Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, had publicly indicated that he was prepared to block the nomination. Mr. Cramer said he would oppose Mr. Tata’s nomination unless he reversed a policy that prevented adding the names of sailors who died aboard a naval destroyer to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a longstanding personal crusade of the senator’s.

But other Republican lawmakers were privately unsettled by Mr. Tata’s inflammatory remarks, and taking a vote on the nomination would have put four Republicans on the panel, who are facing difficult re-election battles, in a particularly unsavory position: Senators Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Arizona, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and David Perdue of Georgia.

Democratic lawmakers on the panel were united in opposing Mr. Tata, making the threat of Mr. Cramer’s opposition potentially fatal to moving the nomination out of committee.

“No one with a record of repeated, repugnant statements like yours should be nominated to serve in a senior position of public trust at the Pentagon,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Mr. Tata. “Your views are wholly incompatible with the U.S. military’s values.”

Senator Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said after Mr. Inhofe canceled the hearing that “it’s fair to say members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee.”

“We had a closed-door session on Tuesday and today’s public hearing has now been canceled,” Mr. Reed added. “Chairman Inhofe did the right thing here, and it’s clear this nomination isn’t going anywhere without a full, fair, open hearing.”

It remained unclear whether Mr. Tata could eventually get a hearing, or if his nomination was dead.

During his conversation with Mr. Inhofe on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump could be heard indicating that he might give Mr. Tata a different appointment.

The call was overheard because Mr. Inhofe put it on speakerphone to hear better as he sat in the Trattoria Alberto restaurant in Washington.

The conversation, recorded by someone in the room, ranged from a discussion about Mr. Tata to Mr. Trump’s desire to preserve the name of Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army, on a military base.

“We’re going to keep the name of Robert E. Lee?” Mr. Trump asked Mr. Inhofe. The senator put the phone to his ear but put Mr. Trump on speakerphone, and the president’s voice was audible to people sitting at other tables.

Mr. Inhofe replied: “Just trust me. I’ll make it happen.”

Mr. Trump went on. “I had about 95,000 positive retweets on that. That’s a lot,” he said, appearing to refer to a Twitter post last Friday in which he said that Mr. Inhofe had assured him that he would not change the names of “military forts and bases” and that the senator “is not a believer in ‘Cancel Culture.’”

Mr. Trump could be heard on the call criticizing cancel culture and told Mr. Inhofe that people “want to be able to go back to life.” He then appeared to dismiss the focus on the cultural shift taking place across the country with an expletive.

An aide to Mr. Inhofe declined to comment on the conversation. Aides to Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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