In his going-on four years in office, President Trump has tapped a swamp’s worth of loathsome figures to fill high-ranking federal positions. But unfortunately for his determination to ensure the government is stocked with as many racists, loyalists, incompetents (or all of the above) as possible, many of these nominees are subject to Senate confirmation.
Such was the case with Anthony Tata, a retired Army general-turned-Fox News talking head whom Trump originally picked to be the Pentagon’s new under secretary of defense for policy. Then in June, CNN revealed that Tata had made several offensive, often racist comments, mostly on Twitter in 2018. The report drew bipartisan condemnation from the Senate Armed Services Committee, so much so that on Thursday Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) canceled Tata’s confirmation hearing.
The Trump administration wasn’t deterred, however, and Tata on Sunday was “designated as the official performing the duties of the deputy under secretary of defense for policy” on temporary basis. In other words, he was effectively given the same role the Senate deemed he wasn’t fit to occupy, by way of a technical runaround to skirt the confirmation process.
Democratic and Republican senators — as well as at least 51 advocacy groups and three senior retired Pentagon officers — opposed Tata’s nomination because of his rich history of offensive remarks. The bulk of the comments are virulently Islamaphobic and include calling President Obama a “terrorist leader” and a Muslim, and that the Iran nuclear deal Obama struck in 2015 was a result of Obama’s “Islamic roots.” Tata also tweeted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) are “violent extremists,” wrote that Waters is a “vicious race baiting racist,” and added a #liberalplantation hashtag to a tweet about CNN’s Don Lemon.
Sounds like a great guy.
Democrats were outraged when they learned the Trump administration had pushed Tata through a loophole around the confirmation process. “I demanded Anthony Tata withdraw his nomination to be the Pentagon’s #3 official because he’s an Islamophobic conspiracy theorist who is totally unqualified,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who serves on the Armed Services Committee, wrote on Monday. “@EsperDod put him in the job anyway. Shame on you, Mr. Secretary.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) agreed. “If an appointee cannot gain the support of the Senate, as is clearly the case with Tata, then the President should not put that person into an identical temporary role,” he said in a statement. “This evasion of scrutiny makes our government less accountable and prioritizes loyalty over competence.”
So did Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I), the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “This method of appointment is an insult to our troops, professionals at the Pentagon, the Senate and the American people,” he wrote in a statement released Sunday night. “Clearly, President Trump wants people who will swear allegiance to him over the Constitution. This is a flagrant end run around the confirmation process.”
Sen. Reed’s point about swearing allegiance to Trump is especially pertinent in the case of the Pentagon’s deputy under secretary of defense for policy, as Tata was nominated to fill the vacancy left by John Rood, who was forced out of the position in February after he warned against the administration’s effort to withhold military aid from Ukraine, the issue at the center of Trump’s impeachment.
Tata, as it so happens, is a vocal supporter of the president.