The U.S. Capitol is seen Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol is seen Thursday, July 13, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s efforts to make the military more welcoming to women and minorities are coming under increasing fire from conservative lawmakers who are threatening a government shutdown in the fall and calling for greater scrutiny of stalled officer promotions.

Some 45 right-wing Republicans belonging to the House Freedom Caucus took the most recent shot at the Defense Department this week, vowing to vote against any government funding stopgap measure that fails to “end the left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military’s core warfighting mission.”

“Our military is supposed to defend America, not cater to every left-wing clown,” Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz., wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. Crane formerly served with the Navy SEALs.

Republicans have long criticized Pentagon initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion but their ability to challenge so-called “woke” liberal ideology in the military had been limited with Democrats in charge of both chambers of Congress. That changed in January, when Republicans won a slim majority in the House.

The small Freedom Caucus has wielded outsized power in the lower chamber, contributing to legislation passed in July that ends diversity programs at the Pentagon, bans transgender health care in the military and rescinds a policy providing leave and travel reimbursement for service members seeking abortions and other reproductive health services.

The group’s newest proclamation threatens to bog down negotiations over a continuing resolution that would provide temporary funding between the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and the pending enactment of the 2024 fiscal year budget. Failure to pass the measure would trigger a government shutdown, potentially halting pay for troops starting Oct. 1.

“Shutting down the government because you disagree with some aspect of federal policy is unbelievably irresponsible,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “It would be incredibly harmful to our national security… ‘My way or the highway’ is not how responsible democracies are supposed to function.”

The last government shutdown began in December 2018 and lasted for 35 days. The Coast Guard was the only military branch affected by the shutdown and military schools such as the Coast Guard Academy and the National War College had to scrounge up funds to pay their professors.

Civilian employees for the Defense Department faced furloughs during a 2013 government shutdown and troops were paid late.

While the Freedom Caucus is demanding concessions in the House, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., is forcefully defending his continued hold on senior military nominees in the Senate. He began to obstruct a process for confirming nominees in February to compel the Pentagon to rescind its abortion and reproductive care policy.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 11, 2023.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., attends a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 11, 2023. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

On Tuesday, Tuberville framed his blockade as a noble attempt to “keep politics out of the military.” About 300 high-level positions have been ensnared in the hold so far and Tuberville has shown no signs of backing down, dismissing warnings from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that national security is being put at risk.

“The Biden administration’s liberal and woke policies are the real threat to military readiness,” Tuberville wrote on X.

He has highlighted in recent days a series of posts by the American Accountability Foundation, a conservative opposition research group, that personally attack some of the stalled nominees by name for their “woke” beliefs.

Navy Vice Adm. Craig Clapperton, nominated for reappointment as vice admiral with an addition of Navy Space Command to his duties, is called out for speaking about the importance of a LGBT celebration at a Navy Pride Month event in 2018.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, nominated for promotion to general and assignment as commander of the Pacific Air Forces, is singled out for claiming diversity, equity and inclusion programs remove barriers and help draw talent to the military.

“This is one of the WOKEST slates of military nominees ever assembled,” the opposition group wrote on X. “Biden's agenda is clear.”

Tuberville on Thursday retweeted another post by the group that targeted Army Col. Kareem "Monty" Montague, who is nominated for promotion to brigadier general. The posts call Montague a “radical leftist” and chastise him for speaking out against racism and statues that honor Confederate generals.

“The Senate needs to do our job and take a closer look at many of these nominees,” Tuberville wrote on X. “These jobs are too important not to.”

The Pentagon declined to comment Thursday.

Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general who served as commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, described the attacks put forth by the opposition group and promoted by Tuberville as “disgusting.”

“You call these selfless, exceptional people with enormous responsibility for protecting our nation ‘woke’ because they seek to unleash the talent of the women and men under their command?” Hodges wrote on X. “You should thank them for defending your right to say stupid s--t like this.”

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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