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GOP senator raises the specter of defunding the Defense secretary

A Republican senator now wants to defund Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and "cut Pentagon funding" in response to a "war on American babies."


Congressional Republicans’ interest in defunding assorted offices and agencies is starting to get a little out of hand. As regular readers know, GOP lawmakers, just this year, have raised the specter of defunding the FBI. And the ATF. And the Justice Department. And the IRS. And the FDA. And the Department of Homeland Security.

More recently, Republicans — at Donald Trump’s behest — have taken particular interest in defunding special counsel Jack Smith’s office.

But as it turns out, the list is still growing. Rolling Stone flagged the latest addition, which I’ll confess that I didn’t see coming.

Tommy Tuberville has finally found an ally in his war against the Pentagon: Mike Lee. On Friday, the Republican senator from Utah tweeted out a defense of his colleague from Alabama, who has been holding months-long one-man embargo against critical military promotions for months. Lee even called for Republicans to “de-fund” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and to “cut Pentagon funding.”

Ideally, the right-wing Republican would be feeling pressure from his GOP colleagues to end his blockade and stop undermining his own country’s military. Lee, in contrast, is effectively encouraging Tuberville’s radical tactics.

But what’s of interest in this instance is how the Utahan is backing the Alabaman’s blockade.

Last week marked a turning point of sorts as part of the larger, months-long fiasco. Military leaders have spent much of the year expressing unsubtle frustration with Tuberville’s willingness to undermine the armed forces, but it wasn’t until last week when the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force wrote a joint op-ed for The Washington Post, pleading with the GOP senator to be more responsible and explaining to the Alabaman that he’s actively eroding “the foundation of America’s enduring military advantage.”

A day later, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told CNN that Tuberville is “aiding and abetting communists” with his blockade. This led Lee to publicly call for Del Toro to apologize to the Alabaman.

But it’s not just the Navy secretary that captured the Utah senator’s attention. Late last week, Lee also accused Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of “funding abortion travel,” and demanded that the Pentagon chief stop criticizing Tuberville.

 By Thursday night, the Utah Republican was accusing the secretary of Defense of “encouraging military abortions,” adding that it’s “time to de-fund” Austin.

A day later, the senator went a little further still, suggesting that Pentagon leaders are “waging war on American babies,” which in Lee’s mind means it’s “time to cut Pentagon funding.”

For what it’s worth, the idea that Congress will strip funding from the Defense secretary, who’s done nothing wrong, is utterly ridiculous. What’s more, while there's a perfectly credible case to be made that the massive Defense budget can and should be trimmed, the idea that the Pentagon will be defunded because of a “war on American babies” reinforces concerns that Lee simply isn’t a serious policymaker.

But I’m also struck by the apparent motivation for nonsense like this.

What Lee seems to be concerned about isn’t just travel reimbursements, but also military leaders such as Del Toro and Austin defending the armed forces from Tuberville’s radical blockade. In other words, as far as the Utah Republican is concerned, his colleague should be free to undermine the military, and military leaders should just shut up about it.

From Lee’s perspective, the problem isn’t with the consequences of Tuberville’s blockade, but rather, with the armed forces’ willingness to criticize Tuberville for creating the consequences in the first place.

If the GOP duo’s colleagues have a problem with this outlandish perspective, now would be a good time for them to say so.