GOP governors urge Austin to drop vaccine mandate for National Guard

Five Republican governors are urging Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinDefense & National Security — Pentagon puts 8,500 troops on high alert Pentagon puts 8,500 troops on higher alert over Russia-Ukraine tensions Special Operations Command's top general tests positive for COVID-19 MORE to drop the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate for members of the National Guard.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the governors tell Austin that “setting punishment requirements” for refusing to be inoculated is “beyond your constitutional and statutory authority.”

“It’s unconscionable to think the government will go so far as to strip these honorable men and women of the nation’s top duties if they don’t comply,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who signed onto the letter, said in a statement. “They protect the very freedoms that the federal government apparently doesn’t believe they too deserve,” she continued.

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Reynolds was joined by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R), Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R), Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), and Nebraska Gov. Pete RickettsPete RickettsNebraska's Republican governor backs primary challenger against GOP lawmaker Ricketts endorses Pillen in race to succeed him as Nebraska governor Pentagon goes on offense vs GOP on vaccine mandates MORE (R).

In a statement to The Hill, Pentagon Press Secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyRussia announces military exercises amid standoff with US, NATO over Ukraine Putin says Russia joins China in opposition to boycotts ahead of Olympics The Hill's Morning Report - Biden, NATO eye 'all scenarios' with Russia MORE said, "We have received the letter from the five Governors and will respond in due course.”

The letter is the latest development in the GOP pushback to the vaccine mandate, which began as a sparring match between the Pentagon and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R).

Stitt asked Austin to exempt his state’s National Guard from the mandate in early November. Shortly thereafter, Stitt appointed a new commander of the Guard, Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, who wrote a memo stipulating that no member of the guard is required to get vaccinated.

Earlier this month, Stitt sued the Pentagon to exempt his state’s guardsmen from mandate.  

Austin required vaccinations for the military in late August, but allowed each of the military services to implement the mandate.

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The deadline for Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel to get vaccinated was Dec. 2, and the Army set a June 30, 2022, deadline for its guardsmen and reservists.

In a memo late last month, Austin said all guardsmen who do not get vaccinated could face loss of pay, among other consequences.

At issue are two federal laws that determine control over the Guard. One law, Title 32 of the U.S. Code, stipulates that a state or territory’s governor holds power to mobilize their guard members unless they are activated for a federal mission. 

Under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, however, the president can mobilize the guard, which places them under federal authority. 

The governors argue that while Austin has the right to establish readiness standards under Title 10, setting those standards for guardsmen under Title 32 status exceeds his authority.

They further point out that Title 32 requires National Guard members to attend training drills and that the statue doesn’t say “unless they fail to meet all readiness standards.”

“For these reasons, we request reconsideration of the directives from your office and the Service Secretaries concerning National Guard members in their Title 32 duty status,” reads the letter.

Updated 3:57 p.m.