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Tuberville seeks to clarify remark about white nationalists in military

Alabama senator faced criticism for appearing to defend extremists

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said he meant to criticize the way Democrats demean supporters of Donald Trump when he said in an interview that he calls white nationalists "Americans."
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., said he meant to criticize the way Democrats demean supporters of Donald Trump when he said in an interview that he calls white nationalists "Americans." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Tommy Tuberville on Thursday sought to clarify comments he made earlier this week about white nationalists in the military, suggesting his highly controversial remarks had been misunderstood.

During an interview Monday with WBHM, a public radio station in Birmingham, the Alabama Republican was asked whether white nationalists should be allowed to serve in the military.

“They call them that. I call them Americans,” Tuberville said during the radio interview.

Extremism in the military has been a focus of many lawmakers after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which involved some veterans and even a handful of active duty servicemembers.

Tuberville’s comments earned widespread condemnation. Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., called the comments “utterly revolting.”

“Does Senator Tuberville honestly believe that our military is stronger with white nationalists in its ranks?” Schumer said. “I cannot believe this needs to be said, but white nationalism has no place in our armed forces and no place in any corner of American society.”

But Tuberville on Thursday told reporters that his comments had been misconstrued. Instead, he said, he meant to criticize Democrats for calling servicemembers with right-wing beliefs white nationalists.

“There’s a lot of good people who are Trump supporters in the military,” he said. “But for some reason my Democrat colleagues want to portray everybody who’s a Trump supporter as a white nationalist. That is not true.”

Blocking military promotions

Tuberville is already in the spotlight for blocking hundreds of military nominations to protest the Pentagon’s new abortion policy, which reimburses servicemembers who must travel to other states for reproductive health care.

He doubled down on his protest Wednesday night, objecting to a unanimous consent request by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., to proceed to immediate consideration and confirmation of a series of nominations.

He did so hours after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he didn’t support Tuberville’s actions, which have snarled almost 200 nominations.

Schumer, who has taken to the floor numerous times to castigate Tuberville, piled on. “This farce is endangering our national security, putting the lives of men and women who have served our country for decades in real trouble, and it needs to end,” he said on the floor Thursday.

Last week, seven former secretaries of Defense from Republican and Democratic administrations warned of national security consequences if the holds persist and urged the Senate to “act expeditiously” on the nominations in limbo. In a recent letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said Tuberville’s holds pose an “unecessary and unprecedented” risk to U.S. national security.

Eventually, Tuberville’s holds could affect top military leadership, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top officers of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, with the current occupants of those positions all scheduled to retire by the end of the year.

Tuberville has insisted his holds don’t affect national security because defense officials remain in their roles until their replacements are confirmed. On Thursday, he told reporters that he was waiting on the Defense Department to meet with him to resolve the impasse.

“Everybody’s got their own opinions,” he said, referencing McConnell’s comments. “I’m waiting for somebody to come over from the Department of Defense and sit down and have a good discussion so we can work it out, but I’ve heard crickets.”

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