Brenda Sue Fulton, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at the Department of Defense, is facing scrutiny from GOP lawmakers this week over her past comments saying the GOP is “racist” and white evangelical leaders are “unmoored” from the Gospel.
In a Thursday hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) questioned Fulton about a January 2018 tweet in which she called the GOP “racist” and said the designation is a moral judgment, not a political one.
In her 2018 tweet, Fulton had written, “Let’s be real. When one of our two national political parties is unable to call out racism, our system is broken. It’s not a political statement to say the GOP is racist; it’s a moral statement, and one backed up by an increasing mountain of evidence. #FixThis.”
In her response to Rounds, Fulton said, “I want to take the opportunity to apologize to you, and to all the members of the committee, for that tweet. My intent was to say that racism isn’t Democratic or Republican, that it’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue and the [Republican] party should make a statement because a whole group of people should never be tarnished with the actions of one, but I went about it all wrong. The words are muddled and confused, and I deeply regret them.”
Fulton said she also regrets her 2018 tweet because she has worked with Republicans in the past and “the idea that I have hurt them with these words is devastating to me.”
Fulton is a former U.S. Army captain and was a 1980 graduate of West Point. In 2011, she was appointed by then-President Barack Obama to the West Point Board of Visitors and became the first openly gay member of the board. Politico reported Fulton was also a vocal proponent of repealing the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred openly gay troops from serving.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), also questioned Fulton over a June 2014 tweet in which she said religious freedom had been “twisted to mean conservative Christians can dictate their beliefs to the rest of us.”
“In your written answers to advance policy questions, you were asked if troops that are part of religious groups who advocate for socially conservative changes to law should be punished,” Cotton began his line of questioning. “You responded that as long as they are quote, ‘acting within the confines of federal law and DOD policy, they should be allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and to observe the tenets of their religion.’ However, on June 30th, 2014, you stated, ‘once again religious freedom, which you put in quotes, ‘is twisted to mean conservative Christians can dictate their views to the rest of us.’ I suppose this was in response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. You also advocated for the repeal in that statement of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which I presume you know was passed almost unanimously by this Congress, it was signed by President Clinton, and it was voted for by President Joe Biden. That law requires the government to demonstrate a compelling government interest before it burdens any person’s individual right to freedom of exercise of religion.”
Cotton then noted that if confirmed, Fulton’s responsibilities would include overseeing military chaplains and how the military processes religious accommodations.
“Are you actually going to protect the religious freedoms of troops and chaplains? Or are you going to ensure they can’t ‘dictate’ their views to the rest of us under the guise of ‘religious freedom?'” Cotton asked.
Fulton responded, “I support religious freedom, and I would support religious freedom for all of our troops, all of our civilian employees consistent with the law.”
When asked if she believes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) should be repealed, Fulton said “no.”
Cotton then asked Fulton about a more recent, 2017 statement, in which she said “the vast majority of white evangelical leaders are utterly unmoored from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Cotton asked Fulton to quantify what percentage of white evangelical leaders she believed are “unmoored,” but Fulton declined to give a specific number.
Asked whether she felt it was appropriate to describe anyone as “unmoored from the gospel” based on their views on given political issues, Fulton said, “While it’s consistent with free speech, it’s unwise.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told Fulton, “I’m astounded, frankly, that you’ve been nominated.”
Hawley also followed up on Cotton’s questions about Fulton’s stance on the RFRA, asking when she changed her views from opposing to supporting it.
“I couldn’t tell you exactly Senator,” Fulton said.
“Why did you change your mind,” Hawley continued.
“I couldn’t tell you exactly Senator,” Fulton said again.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said he had read a number of Fulton’s tweets about “Republicans, white persons, Christians, voters, Americans and sitting U.S. senators who will be voting on your confirmation,” adding, “I simply cannot ignore the callous, hateful, divisive and absolutely untrue things that you’ve said over the years.”
Scott then asked Fulton if she wanted to apologize for her past comments, for which she reiterated her view that the Republican party should have made a statement condemning racism, but “I went about it all wrong and I’m deeply sorry for that.”
Fulton said, “My entire career I’ve worked in a non-partisan and bipartisan way, regardless of people’s politics, worked to support the armed forces and make our military stronger.”
Scott also criticized Fulton’s comments in a 2011 interview with the Windy City Times in which she said, “The United States has a powerful right-wing anti-gay, anti-abortion lobby that purports to represent Christians. While their views are shared by only a small minority of Americans, they are very smart at politics and manipulating the media, and wield power out of proportion to their numbers. These radicals—I can’t bring myself to call them Christians, since their language and actions hold no resemblance to the Jesus I know from the Bible—have succeeded in gaining essential veto power over any political action. They demonize their political opponents, then cry ‘discrimination! bigotry!’ when they incur the slightest criticism.”
Scott went on to say people like the ones targeted in Fulton’s past tweets “will have to wonder about their ability to do their job or get promoted” because of her “hateful and divisive” past comments.