A United States Senate committee abruptly cancelled a confirmation hearing on Thursday for retired Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata to be the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy after a furore erupted over offensive remarks he made about Islam and other inflammatory comments.
Tata’s nomination was already under criticism from Senate Democrats, who sent a letter to him this week calling on him to withdraw.
Tata, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and a conservative commentator for the Fox News television outlet, has been working in the US Department of Defense as a senior adviser to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
Cancellation of Tata’s confirmation hearing, a Washington ritual for presidential political appointees, now puts in question whether his nomination would be withdrawn by the White House.
According to media reports, Tata had 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.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican, announced the hearing’s cancellation shortly before it was scheduled to start.
“There are many Democrats and Republicans who didn’t know enough about Anthony Tata to consider him for a very significant position at this time,” Inhofe said.
Inhofe said the panel did not get required documents from Tata until Thursday. “As I told the president last night, we’re simply out of time with the August recess coming, so it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose to have a hearing at this point, and he agreed,” he said.
Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, told reporters that Tata would continue to work as an adviser to Esper.
“The department was looking forward to General Tata having the opportunity to share his experience and success leading large public organisations, public sector organisations, and his extensive national security experience with the committee today,” Hoffman said during a Pentagon news briefing.
Asked if Esper supported Tata’s tweets on Islam, Hoffman said, “The general himself has stated that he does not believe or support the comments he made. He issued a letter to the committee retracting those statements.”
The committee’s top Democrat, Senator Jack Reed, said the senators had a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, and Inhofe “did the right thing” by cancelling the hearing.
‘”It’s fair to say members on both sides of the aisle have raised serious questions about this nominee,” Reed said.
According to a statement from the senators who sent the letter, Tata walked back his statements, “many of which he deleted, only after his nomination became public”. They said Tata referred to the tweets as an “aberration in a four-decade thread of faithful public service.”
The letter to Tata, signed by nine Democratic senators and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, said, “Your letter to committee leadership appears to be a conveniently timed retraction by someone who has suddenly realized his nomination is in jeopardy. But your multiple past statements cannot be dismissed simply as an aberration.”
Islamic groups have repeatedly called for lawmakers to oppose Tata’s nomination. And they hailed the hearing cancellation.
“If Mr Tata truly does not have enough votes to proceed, his defeat will represent a victory over anti-Muslim bigotry, and for the principle that hatred has no place in our government,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Tata, who retired in 2009 after 28 years in the US Army, served in a number of command and combat jobs.