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Alabama Republican blasts an effort to rid the military of white nationalists

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on April 20.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a Republican from Alabama, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on April 20.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., claims that military recruitment is down because of liberal attacks on the military.

"Look at Joe Biden's [policies,] what he's done to our military with the woke ideas. ...We are losing in the military so fast," Tuberville told NPR member station WBHM.

The lawmaker, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is under pressure for holding up military nominees over abortion policy he disagrees with. When asked about whether that obstruction is hurting military readiness, Tuberville instead faulted the Biden administration.

Tuberville said that he thinks efforts to root out extremism — and critical race theory, which he contends is being taught in the military — are causing the U.S. to lose service members.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin previously rebutted those claims during a 2021 House Armed Services hearing.

"We do not teach critical race theory. We don't embrace critical race theory, and I think that's a spurious conversation," he said. "We are focused on extremist behaviors and not ideology — not people's thoughts, not people's political orientation. Behaviors is what we're focused on."

When Austin became defense secretary he called for "stand downs" or talks to discuss extremism in the ranks. As NPR's Tom Bowman reported at the time:

These discussions were prompted by the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 following a speech by then-President Donald Trump and the presence there of some military veterans.

More than 300 people at the Capitol that day have been arrested, and around 15% have former military ties, according to an NPR analysis. About 7% of U.S. adults are veterans, according to the Census Bureau.

Tuberville, who has been a strong supporter of Trump and voted to challenge the 2020 presidential election results, continues to attack Austin's efforts to rid the military of extremists.

"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," Tuberville said in the WBHM interview conducted last week. "They're destroying it."

Following those comments, WBHM reporter Richard Banks asked Tuberville to clarify his comments on white nationalists saying, "You mentioned the Biden administration trying to prevent white nationalists from being in the military. Do you believe they should allow white nationalists in the military?

"Well, they call them that. I call them Americans," Tuberville said.

Tuberville's comments garnered immediate criticism and were seen as an attempt by Tuberville to defend white nationalists in the military, with Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., tweeting in response to a news story on the interview, "Disgusting. When people tell you who they are, believe them."

Following the release of the interview, Tuberville's office attempted to clarify his remarks in a statement to AL.com on Wednesday saying, "Sen. Tuberville's quote that is cited shows that he was being skeptical of the notion that there are white nationalists in the military, not that he believes they should be in the military," the statement from a spokesperson said. "He believes the men and women in uniform are patriots. Secretary Austin seems to think otherwise, subjecting them to extremism training as his very first act in office."

In a winding interview Thursday to a reporter on Capitol Hill who asked him to clarify his comments, Tuberville defended his assertion that Democrats characterize MAGA Republicans in the military as white nationalists.

"I look at a white nationalist as a Trump Republican," Tuberville said in the interview, which was obtained by NPR. "That's what we're called all the time. A MAGA Person."

The reporter then asked if he agreed with that assumption. "I agree that we should not be characterizing Trump supporters as white nationalists," he said.

The WBHM interview comes as Tuberville is blocking military nominations

Tuberville is blocking over 100 military nominees in the Senate because he disagrees with a Pentagon policy on abortion, which provides travel funds for troops and their dependents who are seeking an abortion but live in a state where those procedures are now illegal.

Tuberville told WBHM he opposes the policy because he believes it uses taxpayer money to fund abortions.

"We have a law in this country called the Hyde Amendment that says taxpayer money will not be used for abortions, because some people believe in it, some people don't. Again, this is a change in the policy from the White House," Tuberville said.

In a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, sent this month, Austin said Tuberville's "indefinite" and "unprecedented" hold poses "a clear risk to U.S. military readiness, especially at this critical time."

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn't support Tuberville's hold.

"No, I don't support putting a hold on military nominations," McConnell said in response to a reporter's question. "I don't support that. But as to why, you'll have to ask Sen. Tuberville."

Listen to the WBHM interview here.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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