Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) says he will not impose a federal vaccine mandate on members of the Texas National Guard, despite warnings from the Department of Defense of consequences for guard members who remain unvaccinated without an exemption.
Abbott's office said the governor sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday "reaffirming that the State of Texas will not impose the Biden Administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate on members of the Texas National Guard."
That doesn't mean, however, members of the Texas National Guard won't face consequences for remaining unvaccinated.
In November Secretary Austin laid out the consequences for service members who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. An NBC News report said Austin's memo indicated they would face loss of pay and be marked absent without cause from drills and training.
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Even more severe, the Air Force discharged 27 airmen earlier this week after they refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, NBC News reported.
Abbott's office said that in early October the governor ordered Texas Adjutant General Tracy Norris not to punish any guardsmen in Texas for choosing not to receive the vaccine, citing his executive order GA-39 which prohibits the imposition of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate by any governmental entity in Texas.
"As governor of Texas, I am the commander-in-chief of this state's militia," reads the letter. "In that capacity, on Oct. 4, 2021, I ordered the adjutant general of Texas to comply with my Executive Order GA-39. If unvaccinated guardsmen suffer any adverse consequences within the state of Texas, they will have only President Biden and his Administration to blame. The state of Texas will not enforce this latest COVID-19 vaccine mandate against its guardsmen. 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."
News from around the state of Texas.
Abbott, in his letter, mentioned several federal court cases where vaccine mandates have been challenged in court and put on hold. For now, though, vaccine mandates for military members have gone unblocked and a governor's order does not supersede federal mandate, meaning members of the Texas National Guard who remain unvaccinated without an exemption could still be subject to discipline from the Department of Defense.
Republican Governors Ask Pentagon to Reconsider Guard Mandate
On Wednesday, a letter from the Republican governors of Wyoming, Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Nebraska acknowledged the Pentagon can set “readiness standards” for the National Guard when activated for federal duty but they asked that the requirement that those members be vaccinated against COVID-19 be discontinued.
“Directives dictating whether training in a Title 32 status (state duty) can occur, setting punishment requirements for refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated, and requiring separation from each state National Guard if unvaccinated are beyond your constitutional and statutory authority,” said the letter dated Dec. 14, NBC News reported.
The Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the FDA. In their letter Wednesday, the governors did not list any concerns about any other fully approved vaccines required by the Department of Defense.
On Nov. 2, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma wrote a letter asking Austin to rescind the mandate for members of the Oklahoma National Guard. Days later, Stitt appointed a new adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard, who said he would not enforce the mandate.