Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate will not extend to the National Guard in Texas.
“As Governor of Texas, I am the commander-in-chief of this state’s militia,” Republican Abbott wrote in a letter (pdf) to Austin, Biden’s nominee.
Abbott ordered Major General Tracy Norris, Adjutant General of Texas, not to force anyone to get vaccinated for COVID-19, pointing to an executive order he signed earlier this year that prohibits government agencies from requiring vaccinations.
“Under this order, General Norris will not punish security guards in Texas for refusing to vaccinate,” Abbott told Austin. “If the unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences in the state of Texas, they will only blame President Biden and his administration.”
Austin has threatened to cut funding for members of the National Guard who have not received the vaccine, and military officials have said they will move on to expelling members who have not received a shot or an approved exemption within a time frame that varies by strength.
Abbott has pledged to use “every legal tool for me as governor” to protect Texas Guard members facing grave consequences.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abbott’s stance is part of growing resistance to the Biden administration’s mandate, with particular emphasis on the National Guard.
Oklahoma, Adjutant General of the Army Brig. General Thomas Mancino last month ordered a suspension of the mandate, citing a directive from Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Oklahoma officials said the governor is in charge of security unless mobilized by Biden, citing Title 32 of the United States Code.
“The governor is the commander in chief for all members of the Oklahoma National Guard while they are in Title 32 status,” Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannam said in a recent email.
The Pentagon sees the situation differently, arguing that Austin can order vaccines for any military, including the guards. Austin last month denied Stitt’s request for a suspension of demands for Guardsmen in Oklahoma, prompting a lawsuit from Oklahoma.
In a memo issued on November 30, Austin said the mandate he signed in August extends to all military personnel, including the National Guard.
Five other governors, all Republicans, told Austin in a letter (pdf) on Tuesday that Austin had gone beyond his “constitutional and statutory powers” with the punishments set out in the mandate.
“It would be shameless to think that the government will go so far as to deprive these respected men and women of their highest national responsibilities if they do not obey. They defend the very freedoms that the federal government doesn’t seem to think they deserve too much, ”Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said in a statement.
In a statement to news outlets, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials received the letter “and will respond in due course.”