Anti-Republican tweets haunt NJ MVC chief up for Pentagon job
TRENTON – The head of the state Motor Vehicle Commission experienced a rather rocky hearing Thursday before a U.S. Senate committee considering her nomination for a Pentagon post, with Republicans strongly opposed due to comments she has made in the past.
Brenda “Sue” Fulton graduated in 1980 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, part of the academy’s first class to admit women, and eventually earned the rank of captain. President Joe Biden nominated Fulton as the assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs.
Fulton was hammered by Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee not for her military record or performance at the MVC but for comments in interviews and on Twitter that called the Republican Party racist and criticized evangelical Christians.
“I’ve got serious questions about some of the inflammatory social posts which you have provided,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota. “In particular, my concern is this. In the Department of Defense, we really do our best to try to keep inflammatory or partisan activities to a minimum. Your posts are pretty tough on Republicans. In fact, you go out of your way in many, many cases to really attack Republicans on a very personal level.”
Fulton apologized to the committee members for a 2018 tweet calling the GOP racist.
“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 party should make a statement because a whole group of people should never be tarnished with the actions of one," Fulton said. "But I went about it all wrong. The words are muddled and confused, and I deeply regret them.”
Fulton said “it’s devastating to me” that her words hurt Republicans with whom she has worked on military issues throughout her career.
Rounds thanked Fulton for the apology but said further explanation is necessary considering that the tweet wasn’t deleted and remains posted nearly four years later.
“Your rhetoric and your conduct is incredibly disturbing to me,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee.
“I'm a Christian,” Fulton told Blackburn. "I will, as I have throughout my career, work side by side with Republicans, with Democrats, with independents, with anyone regardless of their political beliefs for the mission, for what is best for our armed forces."
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said that if confirmed, Fulton would oversee the Defense Department’s religious policies and oversee chaplains.
“I think you'll understand why so many members of this committee and this Senate do not think you are fit to take over this position,” Cotton said. “You are going to be in charge of military chaplains. You are nominated to be the assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, and you have a long history of offensive, inflammatory accusations against Bible-believing Christians. I will oppose this nomination, and I certainly hope the entire Senate will oppose it as well."
“I support religious freedom, and I would support religious freedom for all of our troops, all of our civilian employees, consistent with the law,” Fulton said.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, said he “simply cannot ignore the callous, hateful, divisive and absolutely untrue things” Fulton has said. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said Fulton is “clearly unqualified” and that her confirmation would add to “dangerous” politicization of the military. And Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, said he’s astounded that Fulton was nominated.
“It’s not one statement. It’s multiple statements over multiple years,” Hawley said. “… There’s pages and pages of these statements, all directed at a particular group of people for whom you appear to have quite a significant amount of animus.”
Democrats had questions for Fulton, too, though those were about military policies she would influence in her Pentagon office.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, the committee chairman, said "everyone is entitled to their opinion," so long as they remain fair and responsible in their workplace conduct. He noted Fulton’s “extraordinary career” in the military, beginning as one of the first women at West Point.
“And then you went on throughout your public service and currently in the state of New Jersey working with people from all different persuasions – political, theological, ethnic differences – and there’s been no complaints by any of your subordinates or any of your superiors about your work,” Reed said.
“The performance of your duties, you’ve done it in a way that is based on the principle – and I will be somewhat trite – of duty, honor, country, that you have a job to do, and you must do that job and that if other factors which you might privately, as we all have private thoughts and ideas, do not influence your professional activities,” Reed said.
“I strive to live up to the ideals of duty, honor, country. I do think about that,” Fulton said. “I am passionate. I am strong-willed. I’m a fighter. If I’m confirmed, I will strive to prove to you and every member of this committee every day that I am the person of my record.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.