Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised questions on Tuesday about the effects of sequestration, moments after invoking a Monday training accident that killed seven Marines and left several injured.
The accident took place at the Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada. A military official told CNN the incident involved an explosion caused by a 60mm round that accidentally detonated inside a mortar tube during a live-fire exercise.
Speaking Tuesday on the Senate floor, Reid brought up the late Marines in an apparent plea against sequestration:
Late last night, seven of our Marines were killed in Hawthorne, and many others were injured in an explosion during a training exercise near the ammunition depot in Hawthorne, Nevada. We don't know exactly what happened, but it was a violent explosion, we know that. My thoughts are with those who are injured and of course the families of those who lost loved ones, and Marines all over the world are now focusing on the loss of their fellow Marines. They are grieving this loss. Details are emerging. We really don't know, the area has been blocked off. As I indicated, it was quite a big explosion. ... It's very important we continue training our military, so important. But one of the things in sequester is we cut back in training and maintenance. That's the way sequester was written. Now, the bill that’s on the floor, we hope to pass today helps that a little bit. ... This sequester should go away. We have cut already huge amounts of money in deficit reduction. It's just not appropriate, Mr. President, that our military can't train and do the maintenance necessary. These men and women, our Marines were training there in Hawthorne. With this sequester, it's going to cut this stuff back.
While it's unclear exactly what part, if any, Reid was suggesting sequestration may have played in the accident, officials for the Marines have denied that budget cuts had anything to do with it.
Conservative commentators and military officials quickly pounced on the Nevada Democrat, accusing him of having political motivations for invoking the budget cuts.
From the Twitter feed of former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.):
@senatorreid: Disgusted by your attempt to politicize the death of 7 Marines in NV. If you possessed any shred of honor, you’d apologize now
— Allen West (@AllenWest) March 19, 2013
As National Review reports, one official for the Marines accused Reid of "political posturing" on the backs of "dead Marines."
NBC’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that Marine Corps officials took serious issue with Reid’s implication that the explosion was a result of sequester cuts, and said that was not the reason for the accident. One official went so far as to say Reid was doing “nothing but pure political posturing on the backs of these dead Marines.”
UPDATE: 8:40 p.m. -- Marine spokesman at the Pentagon Lt. Col. Chris Hughes told The Huffington Post that the comments from the unnamed Marine official cited in the NBC report "are unsubstantiated and certainly do not reflect the Marine Corps' position on this matter."
Watch a video of Reid's remarks above.