© Reuters. U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) questions U.S. General Charles Brown Jr. during a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Brown’s nomination to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2023. REUT

By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville on Tuesday said white nationalists are racist after having denied that earlier in the day, an incident that drew criticism from the chamber’s top Democrat, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“White nationalists are racist,” Tuberville, a first-term senator and former college football coach, told reporters on Tuesday afternoon, after a morning interview on CNN in which he said the opposite.

The Alabama senator’s earlier comments defending white nationalists were not the only controversy involving him on Tuesday.

Democratic President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the top U.S. general earlier in the day warned that Tuberville’s blockade of military promotions in a protest over abortion policy could have a far-reaching impact across the armed forces.

Tuberville has used a Senate procedure to hold up hundreds of military nominations.

Hardline Republicans in both chambers of Congress have increasingly turned to stonewalling tactics in pursuit of conservative culture-war goals, with a group in the House last month bringing that chamber to a halt in protest over their leader Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s deal with Biden to avoid a catastrophic debt default.

Schumer earlier on Tuesday took to the Senate floor to declare that Tuberville was “on a one-man mission to excuse and even defend the meaning of white nationalism.”

He called on Tuberville’s fellow Republicans to urge him to apologize, recounting recent interviews in which he was asked about white nationalists serving in the U.S. military.

“I call them Americans,” Tuberville responded during a May interview with an Alabama radio station.

On Monday, Tuberville was pressed on that statement in an interview on CNN, and said: “If we are going to do away with most white people in this country out of the military, we’ve got huge problems.”

In comments to reporters later Tuesday morning, he said that he was “totally against racism” but added: “If Democrats want to say that white nationalists are racist, I’m totally against that too.”

No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune, asked by reporters whether Tuberville should issue an apology for his remarks, said there is no place in the Republican Party, the military or the country for white nationalism.

“I’m not sure exactly what it was he thinks he was saying there,” Thune said. “I’m sure it’s probably something different than how, perhaps, it’s being interpreted.”

Tuberville, who came to the Senate in 2021, has blocked Biden’s military nominees to protest the Pentagon’s practice of funding travel costs for abortions for service members and their dependents.

The Defense Department began providing that funding after the Supreme Court last year struck down the Roe v. Wade ruling granting a constitutional right to abortion.



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