Democrats are condemning President Donald Trump's appointing of a staunch loyalist to a senior Pentagon job after it became clear that getting the retired general confirmed to a higher post would be difficult if not impossible.
Trump appointed retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata to a job performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary for defense policy, amid ongoing furor over offensive remarks Tata made, including about Islam. Last week the Senate canceled a hearing on Tata's nomination to become defense undersecretary for policy, the third-highest civilian post at the Pentagon.
Tata, who also has been a Fox News commentator, withdrew his name from consideration for the undersecretary job over the weekend, and was then appointed by Trump to serve in the deputy's post.
According to media reports, Tata posted tweets in 2018 calling Islam the “most oppressive violent religion I know of,” and he called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader” and referred to him as Muslim. The tweets were later taken down.
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“It’s hard to see how Gen. Tata can do an effective job given the serious questions raised by both parties during a closed executive session of the Armed Services Committee last week, and Gen. Tata’s many incorrect and divisive public commentary,” said Sen., Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the committee.
Reed said Tata was on the verge of being rejected by the panel, and “until the issues raised by senators of both parties can be resolved, Gen. Tata should not be serving in a position in the Defense Department.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump must not prioritize loyalty over competence and install someone in a job if the “appointee cannot gain the support of the Senate, as is clearly the case with Tata."
The Senate Armed Services Committee chair, Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., canceled the panel's hearing last Thursday just hours before its scheduled start saying members didn't have enough information to consider Tata for the job.
Trump's latest move sets up a complex, yet largely temporary, situation in the Pentagon's policy shop.
John Rood was forced to resign as undersecretary for policy in February. He had drawn White House ire for warning against the U.S. withholding aid to Ukraine, the issue that led to the president's impeachment.
James Anderson, who had been serving as Rood's deputy, is currently the acting policy undersecretary — the job Tata was initially nominated to fill. Now Tata instead will be “performing the duties of” Anderson's deputy. Officials who carry the “acting” title have more authority than those who are “performing the duties of” the job.
The Pentagon in a statement said Tata, who had been working as an adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, "looks forward to continuing to help implement the president’s national security agenda.”
Muslim groups have repeatedly voiced opposition to Tata. On Monday, Scott Simpson, director of the Muslim Advocates Public Advocacy, said he must resign.
“A position of leadership for him is an insult to Muslims, to Black people, to Latinos, to the military and to us all,” said Simpson."