Gov. Abbott refuses to enforce federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for National Guard in Texas

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FILE – Members of the Texas Army National Guard stand by as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and 10 other governors hold a press conference at Anzalduas Park on Oct. 6, 2021, in Mission, Texas. Texas’ Republican governor on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin the state will not direct National Guard members to follow a COVID-19 vaccine order as GOP opposition to the mandate across the U.S. military grows. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a letter to the United States Department of Defense, Gov. Greg Abbott drew a hard line when it comes to the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the National Guard.

“As Governor of Texas, I am the commander-in-chief of this State’s militia,” Abbott started the letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He referred to his executive order which explicitly bans government agencies, including the Texas National Guard and Texas State Guard, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines.

“If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the State of Texas, they will
have only President Biden and his Administration to blame,” Abbott wrote.

The letter noted the mandate would not be enforced, regardless of the National Guard stating it could pull federal pay from members of the guard. The Air Force has threatened to discharge unvaccinated servicemembers.

“This willingness to hollow out the National Guard is unconscionable in the face of growing
global threats and a border crisis created by the Biden Administration,” Abbott said.

Late last month, the same agency Abbott directed his letter to rejected a request by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

That decision was widely expected, since the Pentagon has argued for months that the vaccine is critical to maintaining a ready force that can deploy on a moment’s notice to protect the nation. Defense leaders say that, as defense chief, Austin can set medical requirements for the military — including the Guard and Reserve — and that governors don’t have the authority to relieve troops of those requirements.

Austin wrote that all members of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard, “regardless of duty status,” must follow the directions of Army and Air Force service secretaries for COVID-19 vaccine compliance deadlines. “Failure to do so may lead to a prohibition on the member’s participation in drills and training” conducted under Title 32 of the U.S. Code, “and jeopardize the member’s status in the National Guard.”

“The State of Texas will not enforce this latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate against its
guardsmen,” Abbott wrote. “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.”

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