Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, on Thursday suggested reviewing all general and flag officer promotions -- from O7 and up -- to assess nominees' opinions on critical race theory.
It is unclear how much ability Cotton would have to follow through on his suggestion. While Cotton sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, he is a member of the minority party and would not have the authority to make changes to the nomination process. However, senators can place holds on promotion nominations, as Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, did en masse last summer.
But his suggestion shows that, a week after the debate over critical race theory boiled over in a House of Representatives hearing, Cotton is not letting the issue go.
In an online forum Thursday with the Heritage Foundation -- a conservative think tank -- to discuss critical race theory, Cotton said that such general officer nominations typically are handled at the staff level without deep reviews, except for cases in which there is a unique "red flag" such as a complaint about an officer or potential wrongdoing. And except for those who are up for their fourth star or in line to take charge of a major command or other top post, there's typically no nomination hearings held, he said.
"But maybe it's time to change that," Cotton said. "Maybe it's time that we start ensuring that our flag officers subscribe to those very basic principles that are outlined in our Declaration [of Independence] or [Dr. Martin Luther] King's '[I Have a] Dream' speech."
Cotton said that his office has received complaints from troops that the military's "indoctrination training sessions" on the controversial critical race theory began about a year ago, after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an encounter with police officers in Minneapolis. And, he said, "it's gotten worse over the last six months," since President Joe Biden's inauguration.
Months of conservative complaints about the military's diversity efforts, and allegations that the brass is pushing racial theories said to be divisive, erupted at a budget hearing last week. On June 23, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley sparred with Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Mike Waltz over whether the military is teaching critical race theory and whether it is appropriate.
The feud reached its peak when Milley delivered a speech on the importance of military service members and leaders learning about and keeping an open mind on varying ideologies, and understanding the legacy effects racism has had on the nation.
"I've read Mao Zedong, I've read Karl Marx, I've read Lenin," Milley said. "That doesn't make me a communist. So what is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?"
Milley grew visibly angry and said, "I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States military, our general officers, our noncommissioned officers of being, quote, woke, or something else, because we're studying some theories that are out there."
Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, have set up a website to allow service members to anonymously report examples of so-called "woke ideology" in the military.
Critical race theory is an academic theory that was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s that argues racism has been embedded in systems and policies throughout the United States over long periods of time. For example, bank policies from a century ago about who can receive a mortgage can have long-term effects on zoning and hurt desegregation efforts.
Opponents of critical race theory, such as Cotton, argue that it fosters racial intolerance by dividing people into groups based on their identities, and teaching that America is a fundamentally racist country.