GOP senators target Pentagon nominee over ‘offensive’ tweets

By | October 7, 2021

Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday said they were opposed to Pentagon nominee Brenda Sue Fulton, citing her past tweets and statements criticizing the GOP and evangelicals.

During a confirmation hearing for a trio of nominees, several Republicans — including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rick Scott of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Dan Sullivan of Alaska — said they would outright oppose Fulton’s confirmation to be assistant secretary of Defense for manpower and reserve affairs.

The rocky session was reminiscent of the rough reception GOP senators gave Colin Kahl, whom President Joe Biden nominated to be the Pentagon’s top policy official, over his tweets. Kahl was later confirmed.

In a similar fashion, Republicans said Fulton’s tweets showed bias against Republicans and evangelicals and questioned whether she could effectively lead the sprawling personnel portfolio.

Fulton apologized for several of the tweets, calling it “always wrong to tarnish an entire group of people with the beliefs or actions of one or a few.”

Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, followed by other Republicans, noted a January 2018 tweet labeling the GOP “racist” for not calling out racism. “Let’s be real,” Fulton wrote. “When one of our two national political parties is unable to call out racism, our system is broken. It’s not a political statement to say the GOP is racist; it’s a moral statement, and one backed up by an increasing mountain of evidence. #FixThis.”

Fulton responded that she regretted the tweet, and said she aimed to convey that combating racism is a moral issue that transcends party.

“I want to take the opportunity to apologize to you, and to all the members of the committee, for that tweet. My intent was to say that racism isn’t Democratic or Republican, that it’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue,” Fulton told Rounds. “But I went about it all wrong. The words are muddled and confused, and I deeply regret them.”

Several more Republicans criticized her comments on social media, taking aim at tweets and statements criticizing evangelical Christians. Cotton cited a June 2014 tweet that followed the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision arguing the tenet of religious freedom had been “twisted to mean conservative Christians can dictate their beliefs to the rest of us.”

“I think you’ll understand why so many members of this committee and the Senate do not think you are fit to take over this position,” Cotton said. “You are going to be in charge of military chaplains. You are nominated to be the assistant secretary of Defense for manpower and reserve affairs and you have a long history of offensive, inflammatory accusation against Bible-believing Christians. I will oppose this nomination and I certainly hope the entire Senate will oppose it as well.”

At the outset of the hearing, ranking Republican Jim Inhofe also pressed Fulton on whether she intended to change any policies regarding the rights of military chaplains and whether she considers conservatives who oppose abortion rights, such as himself, to be “radical.” Fulton said she does not in both instances.

Fulton said she supports religious freedom and argued that her record in the military and beyond shows that she has consistently worked with people with differing views.

She cited her tenure as a member of the U.S. Military Academy’s Board of Visitors and said some of her closest working partners were Republican members of Congress, name-checking House GOP appropriator Steve Womack of Arkansas.

“I’m a Christian,” Fulton said in an exchange with Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. “I will, as I have throughout my career, work side by side with Republicans, with Democrats, with Independents, with anyone regardless of their political beliefs for the mission, for what is best for our armed forces.”

Fulton, a former Army captain, is a 1980 graduate of West Point and was a member of the first class to admit women.

Fulton was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to the West Point Board of Visitors in 2011, becoming the first openly gay member of the board. She was also a vocal proponent of repealing the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred gay troops from serving openly.

Fulton isn’t the first of Biden’s Pentagon nominees to be raked by Senate Republicans for past tweets.

Kahl’s nomination ran into trouble over past tweets criticizing GOP officials and Trump administration policies.

After a bumpy confirmation hearing in which he apologized for “disrespectful” rhetoric on social media, all Senate Republicans opposed his nomination. Kahl was eventually narrowly confirmed in April.

Biden’s initial pick to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, was withdrawn in March amid concerns that she lacked the votes to be confirmed amid criticism from senators over her tweets.

Near the end of Thursday’s hearing, Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) came to Fulton’s backing, noting that he knew of “no complaints” from subordinates or superiors and concluded that her personal opinions “do not influence your professional activities.”