WASHINGTON ― The Senate Armed Services Committee has set an open hearing July 30 for Anthony Tata, President Donald Trump’s embattled pick for the Pentagon’s top policy job ― but that won’t be the first time the committee gathers to hear from the nominee.
Tata, a Fox News contributor, staunch ally of the president and a retired Army brigadier general, has had to walk back a series of conspiratorial and controversial tweets after they were first reported by CNN. Among them: calling President Barack Obama “a terrorist leader,” a history of Islamophobic comments and claiming that former CIA Director John Brennan wanted Trump overthrown.
Before the open session, the panel will first meet July 28 to consider Tata’s nomination in a closed session, a move typically used to review confidential investigative materials. Foreign Policy first reported the two hearings were in the works earlier this week.
Sen. Kevin Cramer is the only Republican on the panel to announce his opposition to Tata, but for reasons unrelated to Tata’s controversies. Cramer, of North Dakota, told the Washington Examiner that he would oppose Tata unless the Pentagon ends its opposition to adding the names of 74 sailors who died aboard the U.S.S. Frank Evans to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
SASC Ranking Member Jack Reed, D-R.I., and other Democrats on the panel have come out against the nomination, and it remains to be seen whether SASC Republicans―with Sens. Thom Tillis, Martha McSally and Joni Ernst, in vulnerable reelection campaigns―will vote to confirm him.
Backing Tata could mean defending a presidential pick whose public statements have 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. Also, Tata retired from the military in 2009 after an Army inquiry found that he conducted “at least two” adulterous affairs while serving, considered a crime by the military.
Though Trump has previously pulled other Pentagon nominees after their inflammatory public remarks surfaced, he has not budged on Tata, even after weeks of revelations about his controversial comments.
SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, who attended Trump’s recent rally in Tulsa and received his endorsement for reelection, had previously planned to hold a meeting for Republicans to weigh support for the nomination and expressed concern. Inhofe appeared concerned about the nomination in a CNN interview.
“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,” said Inhofe, R-Okla.
What’s also unclear is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would provide a vote for Tata with limited time on the legislative calendar and more than a dozen judicial nominees waiting.
The closed hearing would be the panel’s first for a nominee since Gen. John Hyten was considered for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff amid sexual misconduct allegations. The panel heard from Hyten and others in closed session and advanced him to Senate confirmation after an Air Force probe found insufficient evidence to file charges.
News of Tata’s hearing comes days after Politico reported the White House has effectively been skirting the the Senate confirmation process to install loyalists in acting senior roles. Weeks earlier, the Washington Post reported that the White House has an intensifying effort to Pentagon personnel with an undisputed allegiance to the president.
On Monday, the White House announced it had assigned Michael Kratsios, a 33-year-old White House chief technology officer, as the acting head of research and engineering for the the Defense Department. According to Politico, the administration has also discussed installing Tata in a different senior DoD role on an acting basis.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.