By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville took fire on Tuesday from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for remarks about white nationalism, the latest episode highlighting how the first-term lawmaker has broken with a long-standing tradition in the chamber.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer, a Democrat, said the Republican was “on a one-man mission to excuse and even defend the meaning of white nationalism.”
Under an unspoken rule of etiquette in the tradition-bound Senate, a member in their first six-year term should not make waves – and instead quietly form relationships while carving out an area of legislative expertise.
Tuberville, who has already roiled the U.S. military by blocking hundreds of Democratic President Joe Biden’s nominees to military positions over abortion, has gone a different route.
Schumer on Tuesday called on Tuberville’s fellow Republicans to urge him to apologize, recounting recent interviews in which the Alabama senator 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, the former college football coach 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.”
Tuberville then emphasized, “If racism is one of those beliefs (of white nationalists), I’m totally against it. I’m totally against racism.”
Aides to Tuberville did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Schumer’s call for an apology and suggesting his words could be “fanning the flames of bigotry and intolerance.”
Senate Republican Whip 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.
Thune added, “I’m not sure exactly what it was he thinks he was saying there. 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.
Biden’s nominee to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Charles “C.Q.” Brown, told Congress on Tuesday that Tuberville’s blockade could have far-reaching impact across the U.S. military.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan; additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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