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October 07, 2021

Inhofe Grills DOD Manpower Nominee About Past Anti-Religious Freedom, Anti-Republican Remarks

Leading SASC Republican Also Questions Nonproliferation Nominee About Iran's Nuclear Capabilities

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today questioned nominees for top national security positions at a committee hearing. He focused his questioning on past remarks made by Brenda Sue Fulton, nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, regarding the religious freedom of military chaplains and describing conservatives who do not support abortion as “radicals.” In this role, Fulton would be responsible for making the personnel policy governing the Department of Defense’s 2.1 million service members and more than 700,000 civilian employees.

Inhofe also questioned Corey Hinderstein, nominated to be Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, about her views of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Inhofe: Ms. Fulton, in 2017, you were quoted by the New York Times, and I have the article right here, saying, quote, “what people fail to understand is that chaplains give up some of their rights as ministers when they become military chaplains.” Now the DOD policy for chaplains doesn't say anything at all about this. In fact, it says, I believe quite the opposite. It says, and I'm quoting right now, and I'm going to ask this be a part of the record that if the chaplain is unable to support a specific request because of his or her religious endorsing organizations’ teachings, they all — chaplains all have these procedures that they go through with organizations, then the chaplain must offer referral to another chaplain or professional. Now, first of all, I would ask the question, do you still stand by your statement?

Fulton: Senator, I—

Inhofe: And the quote I’m talking about is the quote where you said that “what people fail to realize is that the chaplains give up some of their rights as ministers when they become military chaplains.”

Fulton: Senator, I was referring to — thank you for allowing me to clarify. I was referring to that cause where a chaplain is required to find support for that individual one way or another, either support them themselves or find that support whereas, you know, a civilian could turn someone away and say “not my job.” And our chaplains are bound and do a remarkable job addressing all of the needs one way or another of our servicemembers 

Inhofe: Well, Ms. Fulton, that's not as I would understand the context that we're talking about this, but let me ask you, do you think that there are some of their rights —are there any other rights that they've given up in the context that we would look at those rights?

Fulton: Senator, I think anyone who wears the uniform of this country has certain real constraints on what they can say in public and certain requirements to serve others and to serve without regard to some of whatever personal feelings they may have. So in that context, I would say, you know, our chaplains do a tremendous job serving everyone.

Inhofe: And my time is disappearing, as you will know. Right now, let me just ask you, do you intend to change any of the long-standing DOD policy regarding the rights of chaplains to minister in accordance with their tenets and their faith? That’s a yes or no.

Fulton: No, Senator.

Inhofe: OK. You have referred in, and I have several documents here I can use, to conservative people primarily as “radicals.” Do you consider me to be a radical because I don't support abortion?

Fulton: No, Senator.

Inhofe: All right. Ms. Hinderstein…I appreciate very much last month, the International Atomic Energy [Agency] released a report stating that Iran's refusal to allow inspectors access seriously compromised the agents’ technical capability to monitor Iran. I think that I join the chairman in just wanting some clarification in terms of your feelings about Iran…You did explain this thing on [technological reversibility [of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities], but I’d like to have you elaborate just a little bit there on that visit. It's my understanding of you feel — maybe you know some things I don't know and I'm hoping you're right and I'm wrong but how do you see that is reversed?

Hinderstein: Senator, thank you so much for the question. Let me state unequivocally that I am extremely concerned about Iran's nuclear program and about the progress that they've made in particular in the last few years. I've been paying attention Iran's nuclear program for more than 20 years, and if confirmed, I would expect that would have a high priority for me going forward as well. Regarding the question of reversibility, I think it's important to separate the technical reversibility related to the equipment and materials. We can downblend uranium. We can remove, uninstall, put in storage or even destroy uranium enrichment equipment. And that's, I think, important to note, when we ask ourselves could Iran come back to the technical constraints of the deal. Those activities are possible. But I will also say that the knowledge they’ve gained in the last few years is not reversible. We can't eliminate knowledge and experience. And so I do believe that if confirmed, I would need to understand how their basic capacity has changed and whether there needs to be any change to our approach to accommodate that. And I wouldn't note that Secretary Blinken even just said this last weekend, that the terms of the JCPOA at some point will not be sufficient to recapture the benefits of the agreement because of the progress that's made, and I would agree with his statement and seek to understand more if confirmed.

Inhofe: I appreciate that. My time has expired, but I would like to, if you are confirmed, have an opportunity to visit with you at some length and exchange some ideas. I would appreciate that.

Hinderstein: I would appreciate that too, Senator. Thank you.

Inhofe: Mr. Chairman, I wouldn't have any questions for Dr. Honey. He is going to be in good shape. I can't think of a better team than for him to be with in Heidi Shyu, and I look forward to working closely with them. Thank you.

Click here to watch Inhofe’s opening remarks.

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