Circumventing Congress, Trump appoints Tata to key DOD post

Trump nominated Tata for a job. The Senate didn't confirm him, so Trump appointed Tata to a post in which he'll simply do the job anyway.
This picture taken 26 December 2011 show
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.AFP - Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

Donald Trump recently nominated retired Gen. Anthony Tata to serve as the Pentagon's top policy official, despite -- or perhaps because of? -- Tata's record of peddling crackpot nonsense via social and broadcast media.

When the retired general's nomination generated predictable pushback, Tata tried to walk back his record of radicalism. When that didn't have much of an effect, the White House reportedly expressed an interest in simply installing him at the Defense Department without senators' consent.

Yesterday, as the New York Times reported, that's precisely what the president did.

President Trump's choice to fill the Pentagon's top policy job withdrew his name from consideration on Sunday after senators from both parties voiced opposition to the official's nomination, largely because of his history of inflammatory comments. But in an end run around the skeptical senators, the Trump administration appointed the official, Anthony J. Tata, a retired Army one-star general turned Fox News commentator, to a temporary senior position in the same Defense Department office that does not require Senate approval.

In a statement that seemed almost comical, the Pentagon confirmed in a statement that Tata was no longer a nominee to serve as the under secretary of defense for policy. Instead, Tata "has been designated as the official performing the duties of the deputy under secretary of defense for policy."

In other words, Trump nominated Tata for a job. The position required Senate confirmation. The Senate didn't confirm him, so Trump decided to appoint Tata to a post in which he'll simply do the job anyway in an acting capacity.

Further demonstrating the White House's disinterest in the congressional confirmation process, Tata will report to James Anderson -- who's also working at the Pentagon in an acting capacity.

Part of the problem with all of this is Tata's tough-to-defend background. He retired from military service in 2009 under a cloud of scandal, before becoming a far-right pundit. It was from this perch that the retired general, among other things, condemned Barack Obama as a "terrorist leader."

By all appearances, the principal reason Tata was nominated for a key Pentagon post was that Trump liked his Fox News appearances.

But just as important is the broader abuse of our system. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement, "Our system of checks and balances exists for a reason and the Senate's role in the confirmation process for administration appointees ensures individuals at the highest levels of government are highly qualified. If an appointee cannot gain the support of the Senate, as is clearly the case with Tata, then the President should not put that person into an identical temporary role. This evasion of scrutiny makes our government less accountable and prioritizes loyalty over competence."

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added, "This method of appointment is an insult to our troops, professionals at the Pentagon, the Senate and the American people. Clearly, President Trump wants people who will swear allegiance to him over the Constitution. This is a flagrant end run around the confirmation process.”

To which the White House, in effect, replies, "Yep. What is Congress prepared to do about it?"

There's no real sense of shame or acknowledgement of limits. Trump sees the system of checks and balances as an annoyance to be circumvented, confident that the president's Republican allies will shrug their shoulders and ignore the abuses.

That assumption is almost certainly correct -- though I have a hunch GOP senators will sing a different tune the next time there's a Democratic president in office.