Commentary, News

Former NC pol Tony Tata could soon be top Pentagon policy official after all

It may not last for long, but it appears the never-ending chaos and dysfunction in the Trump administration will soon lead to former North Carolina Transportation Secretary and Wake County school superintendent Tony Tata serving as the top policy official in the U.S. Defense Department.

As you will recall, Tata, who is a retired Army Brigadier General as well as a novelist and one-time Fox News commentator, was tapped for the position of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy by President Trump earlier this year, but saw the nomination go up in flames in the Republican-controlled Senate after multiple objections were raised from both sides of the aisle to many of Tata’s outrageous past statements — including calling President Barack Obama “a terrorist leader,” and saying that Islam “the most oppressive violent religion that I know of.”

A month or so later, however, Trump simply bypassed the Senate and appointed Tata to be the assistant to the undersecretary — a position that does not require confirmation by the Senate.

Now, today, with a new series of departures and firings taking place at the Pentagon as Trump’s post-election tantrum continues to play out, it appears that Tata may be left in charge — at least for the next couple months. This from Politico:

The departure of James Anderson, the acting undersecretary of defense for policy, potentially paves the way for Anthony Tata, President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee for the top policy job who was pulled from consideration due to Islamophobic tweets, to take over the policy shop. Anderson’s resignation also comes one day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper was fired by Trump, also over policy disagreements….

Tata, who has been performing the duties of the deputy position since the summer, will now likely slide into the No. 1 role. After the White House announced his nomination this year, Tata came under fire for tweets calling Obama a “terrorist leader” and for referring to Islam as the “most oppressive violent religion I know of,” among other controversial statements.

Tata, who was a frequent Fox News guest, also derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Twitter, and shared an article that promoted a conspiracy theory that Obama was a “Manchurian candidate.” Tata later said he regretted the now-deleted tweets.

(As an ironic side note, there’s been no word of opposition from North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis to the appointment even though Tata resigned from the military after an Army inquiry concluded that he had been involved in at least two adulterous affairs — the very same alleged offense Tillis used to bludgeon Cal Cunningham in the recently concluded U.S. Senate campaign.)

There’s no indication at this point whether Tata will have the time or capacity to make a real difference in U.S. defense policy during the 71 days that remain in Trump’s presidential term. One hopes that his chief duty in the coming days will involve preparing for a new administration and turning out the lights.

Of course, if his record of service in North Carolina is any indication, he’s unlikely to have trouble filling the days. During his time as North Carolina Secretary of Transportation, Tata still found time to pen his dime store novels and, at one point, to be absent from the state during a paralyzing winter storm to appear at a book promotion event in Chicago.

Come to think of it, such a book tour might be the best possible thing that could happen to the Pentagon at this point.


Editorial: How winning the battle in NC may have cost Trump reelection

Screenshot from a speech Trump delivered in Greenville during the campaign.

As I noted in a commentary last Thursday, it’s hard not to credit a lot of the surprising success that President Trump and Republicans enjoyed in North Carolina last week to the relentless ground game they pursued (including numerous big in-person rallies) in the final weeks leading up to Nov. 3:

While Democratic diehards and other never-Trumpers flocked to cast ballots during early voting and voting-by-mail, there simply weren’t any high energy events to rouse many less passionate would-be Democratic voters – the kind of people normally targeted by big, last minute rallies and door-to-door canvassing.

From Biden on down, Democratic leaders and volunteers weren’t – quite responsibly – willing to expose themselves or the broader community to such risks.

Add to this the general – if unwarranted – skepticism brought by Trump and his base to the pandemic itself, and the explanation for the large, in-person Election Day turnout by Republican voters we saw becomes that much more obvious.

This morning, a provocative editorial at picks up on that argument by posing the question “Did Trump sacrifice Pennsylvania and Georgia to win in N.C.?” As the editorial explains:

From late August to the day before the election, the incumbent Republican president made 10 campaign trips to the state. His Vice President Mike Pence added another six visits. That doesn’t include the many campaign season visits by Trump’s children and cabinet members.

Over the same period, the President made just three trips to Georgia – Atlanta in late September, Macon in mid-October and Rome on Nov. 1. Trump’s campaign clearly assumed Georgia win was in the cards.

Trump did make eight visits to Pennsylvania. But, by his own admission, he didn’t think they were necessary. Pennsylvania, always viewed as a critical swing state, was in the bag for Trump. Here’s what he told a crowd in Erie at an Oct. 20 rally: “Before the plague came in, I had it made. I wasn’t coming to Erie. I mean, I have to be honest. There was no way I was coming. I didn’t have to. I would’ve called you and said: ‘Hey, Erie. You know, if you have a chance, get out and vote.’ We had this thing won.”

After explaining the ways in which the Trump team’s constant presence in the state clearly helped boost GOP candidates up and down the ballot, the editorial concludes this way:

To the degree that Republicans, up and down the ballot in North Carolina exceeded expectations, they should thank Trump.

Will Donald Trump say North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes were worth the cost of 36 other electoral votes (20 in Pennsylvania and 16 in Georgia)? Will it be worth that sacrifice to end up keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican hands? Was it worth it to add more Republicans to the state’s highest courts?

Our bet is Donald Trump’s answer would be distinctly different from that of the state’s Republicans.

In short, it’s the editorial’s conclusion that North Carolina’s loss was the nation’s gain. Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, COVID-19

Two hopeful signs on Job Number One for the Biden team

There is no single, near-term issue of greater importance right now than the coronavirus pandemic. If the United States can’t get a handle on the issue that Donald Trump so horrifically botched — a failure that almost assuredly cost him reelection — then just about everything else is in jeopardy.

Fortunately, the morning headlines have greeted us with two encouraging pieces of news on this front. This is from a story on CNN:

Pfizer says early analysis shows its Covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective

Drugmaker Pfizer said Monday an early look at data from its coronavirus vaccine shows it is more than 90% effective — a much better than expected efficacy if the trend continues.

The so-called interim analysis looked at the first 94 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the more than 43,000 volunteers who got either two doses of the vaccine or a placebo. It found that fewer than 10% of infections were in participants who had been given the vaccine. More than 90% of the cases were in people who had been given a placebo.

Pfizer said that the vaccine provided protection seven days after the second dose and 28 days after the initial dose of the vaccine. The final goal of the trial is to reach 164 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

In a news release, the pharmaceutical giant said it plans to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration soon after volunteers have been monitored for two months after getting their second dose of vaccine, as requested by the FDA.

Click here to read the full story.

And this is from a story in the Washington Post:

President-elect Biden announces coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday announced the members of his coronavirus task force, a group made up entirely of doctors and health experts, signaling his intent to seek a science-based approach to bring the raging pandemic under control.

Biden’s task force will have three co-chairs: Vivek H. Murthy, surgeon general during the Obama administration; David Kessler, Food and Drug Administration commissioner under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Murthy and Kessler have briefed Biden for months on the pandemic.

Biden will inherit the worst crisis since the Great Depression, made more difficult by President Trump’s refusal to concede the election and commit to a peaceful transition of power. The Trump administration has not put forward national plans for testing, contact tracing and resolving shortages in personal protective equipment that hospitals and health-care facilities are experiencing again as the nation enters its third surge of the virus.

Click here to read the full story.

In an ideal world, of course, President Trump would be putting the good of the nation ahead of his ego and cooperating in this latter effort (and others). Unfortunately, at this point it looks like the Biden team will simply have to establish a competent government-in-waiting on its own. Thankfully, the early signs indicate it has the wherewithal to pull it off.

Defending Democracy, News

Joe Biden wins the presidency (updated)

In the culmination to one of the most rancorous campaigns and excruciating vote counts in American history, former Vice President Joe Biden was elected the 46th president of the United States today.

With victory secured in his birth state of Pennsylvania by virtue of the size of his lead and analysis of the votes left to be counted, Biden now has an insurmountable lead in the Electoral College. Although multiple national news outlets have called the victory, President Donald Trump has yet to concede defeat.

Click here to be taken to States Newsroom Washington bureau reporter Laura Olson’s in-depth coverage of this story.

Policy Watch will continue to update this story as events — including reactions from across North Carolina — continue to develop.

UPDATE: Associated Press called the state of Nevada for Biden this morning as well. Click here for details.

Among the reactions starting to arrive from prominent North Carolinians:

From. Rev. Dr. William Barber, head of the national Poor People’s Campaign:

This is more than a victory for Biden and Harris. This is a victory for democracy. When all the votes are counted, some 80 million Americans will have voted to end the Trumpism politics of lies, greed and the lust for power. An unprecedented coalition of American people have said clearly, “We cannot go backwards. We are going forward together.”

People did not turnout in record numbers in the midst of a pandemic to vote for a return to normal. We have elected Biden and Harris to use the power of government to lift up those who have been battered by COVID-19, battered by poverty, and battered by years of Republican extremism. We can celebrate now for a moment, but we must go to work and make sure that  people can soon feel that their votes will result in policy change.

As I said to Vice President Biden when he was running, our hope is in the mourning. If his administration can answer the cries of mourning people with real, transformative policy that addresses systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the denial of healthcare, it will indeed be a new day in America. If the new administration and Congress will challenge the war economy and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism and nativism, then we the people can believe again that this democracy will continue to be made a more perfect union. If this win is to be a victory for all of us, we must have a major political reconstruction.

From Congressman David Price:

This is a moment to celebrate — we unseated an unfit and dangerous President, elected our first female Vice President, and are on track to win the popular vote by a historic margin. I am proud of all of us for standing strong and making our voices heard. Your voice, your vote, and your dedication to our future helped make the difference.

The coming weeks won’t be easy. We know Trump will try to do everything he can to invalidate the results of this election. But the American people have already made their choice loud and clear: it’s time to move forward with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris leading the fight.

From Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality North Carolina:

Equality North Carolina joins you in celebrating the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, a reign of terror that left vulnerable Americans fearful for their lives and safety on a daily basis. Because of your hard work throughout this election cycle, LGBTQ Americans, Black and Brown folks, immigrants and folks from all marginalized backgrounds have the possibility of a brighter future on the horizon.

In particular, we’re celebrating Kamala Harris becoming Vice President-elect, a historic win as the first woman and woman of color to serve in the role

Joe and Kamala’s wins in no way will fix all of our problems. We’re still in the midst of a raging pandemic, unemployment remains at an all-time high and we’re facing a terrifying judicial makeup from the highest courts in the land all the way down. But at least for today, we can rest assured that leaders with our community’s best interests at heart will soon be governing from the highest office in the land, and Equality North Carolina will be working alongside them every step of the way.