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Mace tries to tie Cunningham to possible Parris Island closure in SC congressional campaign

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Congressional candidate Nancy Mace stands outside Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. She is tying her opponent, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, to an amendment which some speculate could lead to the training base's closure. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

Republican congressional candidate Nancy Mace is taking aim at Democratic rival U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham over whether a vote he took to equalize training for Marine men and women at Parris Island put the training base in jeopardy.

Mace said Cunningham's support of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and an amendment that required the training depot to make boot camp co-ed, could lead to the closure of the historic military installation near Beaufort.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger last week said he is considering closing the branch's two existing training locations — Parris Island and San Diego — if they can't meet the requirement.

He's floated the idea of having all recruits report to a new base where men and women would train together.

Mace said it was Cunningham's responsibility to deal with the potential repercussions of those votes and that it should be considered a "dereliction of duty" for supporting the military spending bill without Parris Island safeguards in place.

"These amendments that were created and inserted into the NDAA originated in the House," Mace said, referring to the Democratic-controlled chamber in Congress.

"And he didn't do anything to protect it," she said. "So it's on his watch, and nobody else's."

The South Carolina base was given five years to make training equal for men and women via the passage of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. Berger wondered if it made financial sense to spend money on the existing bases or to consolidate them instead.

Cunningham voted in favor of the House version of the massive military spending bill. It did include an amendment from U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., which required that the Marines gender-integrate their boot camps to be in line with all other trainings across the military.

That call from Congress has fueled speculation of Parris Island closing. 

The plan proposed by Berger last week is not set in stone and no official decisions have been made on closing Parris Island. Additionally, every member of South Carolina's delegation in Washington, excluding Rep. Tom Rice, signed on to the 2020 defense spending bill.

Cunningham, in a statement provided to The Post and Courier on Tuesday, said it was a "ludicrous" stretch to say he voted to put the Marine Corps installation at risk. 

"Last year, I was proud to vote alongside the South Carolina delegation, including Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, to integrate Marine Corps training, and we are all committed to providing the necessary funding to implement that training within the five-year timeline," Cunningham said.

"State Rep. Nancy Mace's allegations that either senator or myself would ever jeopardize funding to Parris Island is ludicrous and a desperate attempt to make cheap headlines and garner attention for her failing campaign," he added.

Cunningham did advocate for and helped author several measures in the NDAA that would benefit Parris Island.

He secured $37.2 million to modernize an outdated live-fire training range and passed a House amendment that would help protect Lowcountry military installations from mandated government closures.

He also added a provision that would help bases address rising sea level and flooding problems by giving them access to funds to construct, replace and maintain roads.

When Cunningham heard about the speculation of the training base closing last week, he said he would "fight like hell to keep Parris Island.”

Female Marines have trained on Parris Island since Feb. 23, 1949, but platoons have not been fully made co-ed. In January, Parris Island announced it would place one female platoon into the previously all-male 3rd Recruit Training Battalion during boot camp. It was considered one step toward meeting the co-ed requirement.

Mace told The Post and Courier she blamed "California liberals" for creating a burden on Parris Island.

"Women train better in their own platoons and this is the only place that has an all-female platoon," she said. 

Mace, the first female graduate of The Citadel's Corps of Cadets, said she is against men and women training together for the Armed Forces, which is a different experience than what she went through in the college setting, when she broke the gender barrier at the school.

Mace also raised concerns about cohabitation of male and female recruits at Parris Island. She said it was problematic as the military grapples with cases of sexual harassment and assault.

Under the requirements in the defense spending bill, however, the Corps will still be allowed to have separate-gender squad bays where recruits sleep and shower.

In response to last week's report on Parris Island facing possible closure, Gov. Henry McMaster's office reported the state’s Military Base Task Force will meet Thursday morning at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center in Columbia with federal, state and local officials to discuss solutions. 

Cunningham will not be at the Thursday meeting due to House votes in Washington, his office said.

Jamie Lovegrove contributed to this report.

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5713. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly is a political reporter based in Charleston. He also covers the military community and veterans throughout South Carolina. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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