Abbott becomes 7th GOP governor to protest National Guard vaccine mandate
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday became the seventh Republican governor to formally press the Pentagon to drop its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the National Guard, telling officials he will not impose the requirement on Texas guardsmen.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a vaccine mandate in late August and two months later released a memo stipulating that all guardsmen who do not get vaccinated could face loss of pay, among other consequences.
“The State of Texas will not enforce this latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate against its guardsmen,” Abbott wrote in a letter sent to Austin. “If the federal government keeps threatening to defund the Texas National Guard, I will deploy every legal tool available to me as Governor in defense of these American heroes.”
The message comes two days after the governors of Alaska, Mississippi, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming sent a similar letter to Austin, telling the Pentagon chief that “setting punishment requirements” for refusing to take the shot is “beyond your constitutional and statutory authority.”
The dispute was set off last month when Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) asked Austin to exempt his state’s guardsmen from the mandate, and shortly thereafter issued a memo stipulating that no member of the state’s guard is required to get the shot.
Stitt also sued the Pentagon earlier this month to exempt his state’s troops from the mandate.
The governors all argue that the Defense Department can’t enforce the order while troops are under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, which says they are under their governor’s control unless the president mobilizes them.
But troops are still federally funded when they receive additional training or education, which means they must follow the mandate “regardless of duty status,” according to Austin.
Abbott disagrees with that reading of the law.
“If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the State of Texas, they will have only President Biden and his Administration to blame,” he wrote.
Abbott notes that in October he ordered the Texas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris to not punish any guardsman in Texas for choosing not to receive the vaccine. He also said the mandate would “hollow out the National Guard,” likely referencing those that may be involuntarily discharged for declining the shot.
Those numbers, however, won’t be calculated until after the Army National Guard’s June 30 vaccine deadline for its troops.
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