WASHINGTON — With support eroding for President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Pentagon’s top policy job, Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans are planning an emergency meeting to discuss the fate of the nomination, congressional sources say.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, a Fox News contributor and staunch ally of the president, has been under fire since his nomination, after CNN revealed since-deleted tweets from 2018 in which Tata made derogatory comments about Democrats. They included calling President Barack Obama “a terrorist leader” and calling Islam the “most oppressive violent religion I know of.”
Tata once reportedly tweeted at former CIA Director John Brennan: “Might be a good time to pick your poison: firing squad, public hanging, life sentence as prison b*tch, or just suck on your pistol. Your call. #Treason #Sedition #crossfirehurricane #Obamagate.”
Tata has since disavowed those and other inflammatory remarks in a recent letter to leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, since obtained by multiple news outlets. But a half-dozen Democrats on the panel had already announced their opposition to him serving in the Defense Department’s No. 3 job, while at least two retired generals this week pulled their support for him.
SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. — whose reelection campaign Trump endorsed this week — has been under pressure from the president to hold a nomination hearing for Tata despite the controversy, according to multiple sources.
To assess the viability of Tata’s nomination, Inhofe plans to host a meeting for Republicans on the panel to gauge support for confirmation and provide feedback to the White House. As of Tuesday, no date for the meeting had been set.
The controversy comes at a politically sensitive time for the committee, as Inhofe and seven of the 14 other SASC Republicans are running for reelection in November.
Congressional sources said several Republican members do not want a public hearing for Tata, particularly ahead of a long summer recess where they could face questions from constituents about the problematic nominee.
“I’ve heard the same thing you’ve heard, and for that reason we’re going to make a decision,” Inhofe told CNN last week when asked about his plans for the confirmation process. “I don’t want to say it disqualifies him and we’re not going to consider him, but I’m saying that got our attention.”
For Republicans, backing Tata could mean defending a presidential pick who has evinced intolerance to Islam at a time when the military and the rest of the country is reckoning with America’s painful legacy of discrimination.
If confirmed by the Senate, Tata would lead defense policy planning and public diplomacy initiatives, foster relations between the Department of Defense and foreign countries, and be the DoD’s lead on interagency policy matters.
Tata’s predecessor, John Rood, had held a range of high-level national security jobs in government. (Rood was ousted in the fallout from Trump’s Ukraine military aid impeachment.)
Republicans would likely have to unify to confirm Tata’s nomination without Democrats, and they’re facing a public outcry about the politicization of the military, prompted by Trump’s remarks about using active-duty troops to deal with protests against racial inequality and police abuse.
And for all the potential political risk to Republicans, Tata, if confirmed, would almost certainly only serve a few months if Trump isn’t reelected.
“This is not a lifetime judicial appointment when members are willing to take a tough vote,” said a former senior defense official. “This would be a vote for someone who might not even be around in six months. It is hard to see how he ever gets to a vote.”
Though the White House previously pulled other Pentagon nominees after their inflammatory public remarks surfaced, the administration has not budged on Tata, even after weeks of revelations about his controversial comments.
On Tuesday, CNN reported still more troubling remarks. Tata repeatedly spread conspiracy theories that Brennan tried to overthrow Trump and have him assassinated; and that then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama engaged in “borderline treasonous” behavior by expressing their dismay over a Trump presidency during the transition period.
With other pressing business facing the committee, senators may opt to ignore the issue instead of directly dealing with the controversy.
“There is pressure to do it, but for now the nom is dead in the water,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a former House and Senate staffer on defense issues, now with the American Enterprise Institute. “And I think it’s easy for members to blame other additional causes beyond the inflammatory stuff.”
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.