WASHINGTON -- A Senate committee abruptly canceled a confirmation hearing Thursday on a controversial former general's nomination to a top Pentagon post after a furor over offensive remarks he made about Islam and other inflammatory comments.
The nomination of retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata to be the Pentagon's under secretary for policy was already under fire from Senate Democrats, who sent a letter to him this week calling for him to withdraw. Tata, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and a Fox News commentator, has been working in the department as a senior adviser.
It wasn't clear Thursday if his nomination would be withdrawn.
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.
The Senate Armed Services Committee chair, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., 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. He said the panel didn't 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.”
Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, told reporters that Tata continues to work as an adviser to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“The department was looking forward to Gen. Tata having the opportunity to share his experience and success leading large public organizations, public sector organizations, and his extensive national security experience with the committee today,” Hoffman said during a Pentagon 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, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said the senators had a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, and Inhofe “did the right thing” by canceling 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 Sen. 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 Army, served in a number of command and combat jobs.