Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has told National Guard members in the Lone Star State that they can ignore the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, saying President Biden “is not your commander-in-chief.”
Abbott sued the Biden administration on Tuesday over the vaccine requirement for the Texas Army National Guard, another legal challenge that Texas has instituted or participated in involving vaccination mandates for large businesses, federal contractors or health care workers, the Texas Tribune reported.
“Unless President Biden federalizes the Texas National Guard in accordance with Title 10 of the U.S. Code, he is not your commander-in-chief under our federal or state Constitutions,” Abbott said in a letter to Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard.
“And as long as I am your commander-in-chief, I will not tolerate efforts to compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine,” the governor added.
Texas is one of at least six other Republican-led states — along with Oklahoma, Wyoming, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi and Nebraska — seeking an exemption to the mandates from the Pentagon.
While Guardsmen usually fall under the authority of their state’s governor, they can also be called to active duty by the federal government.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has the authority to require all members of the military, including the National Guard, to receive the COVID-19 vaccines to respond to national security needs.
“When (Guardsmen are) called up for their monthly training, they’re still federally funded. So (the secretary) has those authorities. And he believes, and this is a larger point, that vaccinated forces are a more ready force,” Kirby said in November.
Austin ordered all branches of the military to get the shot in August, laying out penalties for those who refuse — including loss of pay, suspension in training or being discharged from the service.
Air National Guard personnel had until the end of 2021 to be inoculated, but Army Guardsmen have until June 2022.
In Texas, about 90 percent of the Air National Guard is fully vaccinated, with 10 percent “going through the exemption process,” but the Texas Military Department could not provide info on vaccination rates so the Army National Guard, the Tribune reported.
Last week, a federal judge in Oklahoma denied a lawsuit filed by Gov. Kevin Stitt challenging the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate, siding with the Defense Department’s argument that it is needed to keep troops safe and ready to deploy.
“It is unmistakably clear that the intent of Congress … is that the Guard and its members will at all events be prepared, conformably to federal military standards, to be ordered into federal service, deploying alongside members of the active duty Army and Air Force, on little or no notice,” Judge Stephen Friot wrote in his ruling.
With Post wires