U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, is drawing intense criticism for his remarks on white nationalism and his hold on military nominees. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — As U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama continues his blockade of hundreds of military promotions, he again entered the spotlight Tuesday for his comments that seemingly excused white nationalism.
Just before 2 p.m. Eastern, the Alabama senator told Capitol Hill reporters that “white nationalists are racist,” according to pool audio, when asked to clarify his statements in May to a local Alabama radio station about white nationalists serving in the military, which he repeated on CNN on Monday.
But Tuberville’s effort to walk back his remarks did not relieve U.S. senators from having to field questions about their colleague’s views on racism and his prolonged holds on senior military nominations in the upper chamber.
“White supremacy is simply unacceptable in the military and in our whole country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky responded when reporters asked about Tuberville’s comments during the GOP senators’ weekly press conference.
What Tuberville said
In early May, WBHM-FM, an NPR station in Alabama, interviewed Tuberville about his stalling of Department of Defense nominees. Tuberville told the host that President Joe Biden’s policies were “destroying” the military.
“We are losing in the military so fast. Our readiness in terms of recruitment. And why? I’ll tell you why, because the Democrats are attacking our military, saying we need to get out the white extremists, the white nationalists, people that don’t believe in our agenda, as Joe Biden’s agenda,” he told WBHM’s Richard Banks.
When Banks asked Tuberville to explain if he thought white nationalists should be allowed to serve in the armed forces, the Alabama senator and career university football coach replied, “Well, they call them that. I call them Americans.”
On Monday, when CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked Tuberville to clarify his remarks, the senator replied: “First of all, I’m totally against any type of racism, OK. I was a football coach for 40 years, and I dealt, had opportunity to be around more minorities than anyone up here on this (Capitol) Hill.”
He continued to say that he thought criticism from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about the threat of white nationalism in the military after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack was “outrageous.”
“White nationalist is just another word that they want to use other than racism,” Tuberville said.
Collins then directly asked the senator if he agreed that white nationalists should not serve in the military.
“If people think that a white nationalist is a racist, I agree with that,” Tuberville responded to Collins Monday night.
“A white nationalist is someone who believes that the white race is superior to other races,” Collins replied.
“Well, that’s some people’s opinion,” Tuberville responded.
“That’s not an opinion,” Collins replied. “What’s your opinion?”
“My opinion of a white nationalist, if someone wants to call them a white nationalist, to me is an American,” said Tuberville. “Now if that white nationalist is a racist, I’m totally against anything that they want to do because I am 110% against racism. But I want somebody that’s in our military that’s strong, that believes in this country, that’s an American who will fight along anybody whether it’s a man or woman, black or white, red, it doesn’t make a difference. So I’m totally against identity politics.”
Military promotions on hold
The Alabama senator has been blocking the nominations of hundreds of military leaders and flag officers as a protest against the Biden administration’s abortion policy that will allow travel compensation and leave for armed services members who are stationed in states where abortion is severely restricted or banned.
When asked by States Newsroom at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday if he planned to stop holding up the military nominations, Tuberville replied “No.”
The Pentagon estimates that if the holds continue, as many as 650 positions could be vacant by year’s end.
Punchbowl News reported Tuesday from Lithuania, where the NATO summit is ongoing, that Lt. Gen. Andrew Rohling, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe-Africa, asked a bipartisan group of senators to persuade Tuberville to abandon his obstruction of the nominees.
“The responsibility is on Sen. McConnell, Sen. Thune and the Republican caucus to dissuade Tuberville from doing this thing which is wrecking our, hurting our national security in a very real way, and every week it gets worse,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, told reporters during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
Warnings from top military leader
During the nomination hearing Tuesday for Gen. Charles Q. Brown to become the military’s next Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the general warned that holds can potentially stall careers for junior officers and delay choices for military spouses and dependents.
“It has an impact, and as you highlighted, whether it’s schools, whether it’s employment, or the fact that they’ve already sold their home because they thought they were going to move and now they’re living in temporary quarters,” Brown said to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts when she asked about the impact of Tuberville’s refusal to bring nominees to the floor.
The current Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, is set to retire later this year.
U.S. Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger retired Monday, leaving the Marine Corps without a top leader.
“You know, it’s been more than a century since the U.S. Marine Corps has operated without a Senate-confirmed commandant,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin remarked in a speech upon Berger’s relinquishment of service ceremony. “Smooth and timely transitions of confirmed leadership are central to the defense of the United States, and to the full strength of the most powerful fighting force in history.”
“Stable and orderly leadership transitions are also vital to maintaining our unmatched network of allies and partners. And they’re crucial for our military readiness,” he continued. “And of course, our military families give up so much to support those who serve — so they shouldn’t be weighed down with any extra uncertainty.”
DOD and access to reproductive health care
The Biden administration ushered in the policy in February to support service members’ travel for “non-covered reproductive health care.”
Just over a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal protections for abortion, triggering a patchwork of state-by-state regulations, where in some abortion remains legal and in others such services are effectively banned.
Roughly 80,000 female service members are stationed in locations either without access or severely restricted access to non-covered reproductive health care, like elective abortions, according to a September 2022 report published by the think tank RAND.
“Almost 1 in 5 of our troops are women, and they don’t get a chance to choose where they are stationed,” Austin testified to Congress in March.
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