President Donald Trump still supports Anthony Tata, his pick for undersecretary of defense for policy, despite the abrupt cancellation of Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearing for the divisive nominee, the White House said on Friday.
“I have no personnel announcements other to say that the president still supports him,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said when asked about whether Trump would appoint Tata in an acting role, bypassing Congress to give him a temporary post.
Tata, a controversial political figure and frequent Trump defender on Fox News with a long history of anti-Muslim rhetoric, was scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday but the hearing was canceled shortly before it was supposed to begin.
Most recently, Tata was forced to walk back a string of Islamophobic tweets, uncovered from 2018, in which he called former President Barack Obama a “terrorist leader.” He has also publicly stated that “Islam is the most oppressive violent religion that I know of.”
Muslim Advocates, Faithful America, and other civil rights organizations held a news conference on Wednesday, calling for the Senate to reject Tata’s nomination.
Scott Simpson, public advocacy director of Muslim Advocates — a national civil rights organization with expertise in policy and court representation for American Muslims — declared Tata’s canceled hearing a “victory” in a news release on Thursday:
“This cancelled hearing shows that deep incompetence and naked bigotry can still be disqualifying in Washington, but only when people of conscience organize to hold their senators accountable.”
Rev. Nathan Empsall, campaign director of Faithful America — an online community of Christian social justice activists — attended Wednesday's news conference.
Empsall rejected Trump’s claim that he had done more for religion than any other president in history. As long as Trump keeps the Muslim travel ban in place, enables the desecration of Indigenous tribal lands, and nominates Islamophobic men like Tata for high office, Empsall said, his religious platform is all talk to win a re-election vote.
“Tata’s nomination is blatant proof that the Trump administration’s agenda is not one of religious freedom but of toxic Christian nationalism, falsely proclaiming that only conservative Christians can make good Americans,” Empsall said. “As Christians, whose scripture calls us to love our neighbor, we reject all forms of hatred, including Tata’s racism and Islamophobia.”
Empsall warned that Tata’s agenda posed a danger to Muslim service members and religious freedom.
He went on to share that more than 17,500 members of Faithful America had contacted their representatives to oppose Tata's nomination.
In addition to Tata’s extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric, attendees agreed that he was objectively unqualified to become undersecretary of defense for policy, the third highest position at the Pentagon.
With a diverse workforce of nearly 3 million employees and a budget of more than $700 billion, the Defense Department is the largest employer in America. Tata’s record of bigoted discrimination and status as a retired military general makes him the wrong person to hold power over a vast amount of people, according to Paul Eaton.
Eaton, a retired army major general and senior adviser of Votes Vets, said Tata’s appointment would make him a pariah overseas and greatly reduce the military’s capacity to influence outcomes.
“He is a hot mess,” Eaton said. “He has moral problems. He has significant issues in his military background that — for the life of me — I don’t understand why he was allowed to retire as a brigadier.”
The news conference came after a letter signed by more than 50 civil rights groups opposing Tata’s nomination. Hilary Shelton, director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s Washington Bureau, was also in attendance.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.