Two days after voting to back an emergency declaration allowing millions of dollars in cuts to North Carolina military bases to help President Donald Trump pay for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis met with troops and their families at Fort Bragg.
Although Tillis was at Bragg primarily to hear complaints about poor conditions in on-base housing — which won’t be affected by any potential cuts — some in the audience cited those cuts to question his broader commitment to the military.
Tillis, a Republican in his first term as a U.S. senator, will seek re-election to a second six-year term in 2020. He’s facing a challenger on the right who says he’s not sufficiently pro-Trump, and challengers on the left who say he’s too pro-Trump. Both sides base their arguments in part on his flip-flop over Trump’s plans to pay for the wall with military funds; Tillis first said he would oppose Trump declaring a national emergency but later voted for it.
In a news conference after the meeting, Tillis defended that vote but said he’s also committed to the military.
He also criticized the recent push by the Democrat-led U.S. House of Representatives to start an impeachment investigation into Trump based on an anonymous whistleblower complaint. That complaint raised the possibility that Trump tried to use the influence of the presidency to pressure foreign officials to get involved in the 2020 U.S. elections.
The subject of the complaint is a phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. A transcript of the phone call shows Trump asking for “a favor” immediately after the Ukrainian president asks about getting more American weapons. They discuss Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, traveling to Ukraine. Then Trump suggests a Ukrainian investigation into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Tillis was asked if that worried him.
“No, actually,” Tillis said. “In the transcript it seems to me, at least, we’re going to have to have more information to reconcile the transcript with the complaint. There was nothing on its face that I would think would rise to the level of what the House has chosen to do.”
TIllis also questioned whether the whistle-blower was legitimate. He said that even if he or she is, he thinks Democrats pushing for impeachment are motivated more by “obsession” than by facts.
“There were some people calling for President Trump’s impeachment before he was sworn in,” Tillis said. “There were some people calling for his impeachment when the special counsel investigation was going on. ... Now we have a new call for impeachment based on the reputed whistle-blower report. I sometimes wonder, though, based on past behavior, whether this is a genuine fact-based process that they’re going through, or political games.”
Military funding issues
Although the nascent impeachment investigation is the biggest national news at the moment, it’s not what Tillis came to Fort Bragg to talk about. The purpose of his meeting was to gather information about poor living conditions at the nation’s largest military installation, located just outside Fayetteville.
Earlier this year, The Fayetteville Observer reported, the U.S. Army found mold, lead and other contaminants in on-base housing. That Army report ranked Bragg’s housing conditions as the worst of 43 Army bases studied.
“I got a little angry because I saw things that shouldn’t have happened,” Tillis said Friday. He encouraged any military families experiencing issues to reach out to his office if they continue failing to get help.
Danielle Goldwire, a mother of four whose husband is in the 3rd Special Forces Group, said her many complaints about mold in their home were ignored for months — until Tillis announced his visit earlier this week.
“They heard the senator was coming so they were doing AC, carpets, everything,” Goldwire said in an interview after the meeting. “But you’re only doing this because the senator’s here? That’s crazy.”
Nearly everyone who spoke Friday talked of poor living conditions and a lack of attention from the private company that runs on-base housing, Corvias.
One soldier told Tillis that his and his neighbors’ homes recently flooded, even though he had been warning Corvias for months about impending flooding. A woman said her family has been stationed at Fort Bragg three times, and she believes it’s why she developed debilitating asthma. Others blamed moldy carpets and walls for getting their children sick or forcing friends to end their military careers early.
A spokesperson for Corvias told the Fayetteville Observer for a June story that the company was taking action to address concerns and had made a series of changes at the base.
In a news release this week, Corvias said it had heard complaints and has proof that it’s doing better now.
“As we were making repairs, we came to realize that simply following the status quo of correcting problems when they occur wasn’t going to solve the long-term issues of these aging facilities,” Corvias founder John Picerne is quoted as saying.
Tillis said there’s plenty of blame to go around, from the company to Congress to the Department of Defense. He promised to find solutions, whether that’s helping individual families handle complaints or trying to pass laws to improve the situation.
Some in the audience, however, questioned how committed he was to their plight.
“How can we trust you to fix it if you’re taking money from us actively for a border wall?” asked Tamara Terry, whose husband is stationed at Fort Bragg. Terry is also vice president of a nonprofit focused on military housing, Operation Mission Ready.
The nationwide military cuts announced to pay for the wall are about $3.6 billion. Of that, $47 million would be cut from active projects in North Carolina — not counting money for school construction at Fort Bragg that Tillis said had already been canceled.
None of the military spending that might be cut to pay for the wall, he said, would have gone toward housing on any North Carolina bases.
“Not a dime,” he said, adding that he’s separately working in Congress to increase funding for military housing, and to also pass a “tenants’ bill of rights” for military families who live on-base.
As for the cuts for the wall, Tillis originally said he considered Trump’s plan an example of the executive branch taking too much power. He wrote a widely shared op-ed for the Washington Post saying he opposed an increase in the power of the presidency under Barack Obama and would under Trump, too.
“There is no intellectual honesty in now turning around and arguing that there’s an imaginary asterisk attached to executive overreach — that it’s acceptable for my party but not thy party,” Tillis wrote.
However, under pressure from conservative activists, Tillis flip-flopped and eventually supported Trump’s plan, in votes earlier this year and again this week.
On Friday he defended the decision, saying he was told by top military officials that they didn’t need the money this year. And he reiterated that he is serious about addressing the housing issues at Fort Bragg, which is home to tens of thousands of people.
“This is why I’m here,” he said. “If I thought everything was pink skies and flowers, I’d be somewhere else.”
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