Gov. Greg Abbott sues to block vaccine mandate for National Guard troops

The governor argues that the federal government can’t issue such a mandate to troops who aren’t currently deployed.

By Michael MarksJanuary 5, 2022 10:54 am, ,

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sued the Biden administration on Tuesday over its vaccine mandate for members of the National Guard.

The lawsuit, filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, argues that the federal government only has the authority to issue such mandates while troops are deployed. Otherwise, the governor is the commander-in-chief of Texas guard members.

Rose Thayer, a reporter for Stars and Stripes, spoke to Texas Standard about the lawsuit. Listen to the interview with Thayer in the audio player above or read the transcript below.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: Texas claims this case is not about being pro- or anti-vaccine, and I guess that may leave a lot of listeners scratching their head. What is this about?

Rose Thayer: Yes. The lawsuit says that very clearly: Gov. Abbott has said that he is the commander of Texas National Guard troops until the moment they are activated on federal orders. And at that point, the president becomes their commander. So he believes that for that reason, the federal government can’t step in and mandate a vaccine for them while they’re on state orders and under his command. However, the Pentagon’s argued that when troops are under states’ control, they still have the ability to mandate vaccines that help for medical readiness for those federal missions.

I know that there was a recent vaccination deadline for the Air National Guard.

Yes, Dec. 2 was the deadline.

How many Air National Guard forces were not vaccinated by that deadline?

I checked in with the Texas military department yesterday and they said 90% of their Air National Guard troops have been vaccinated, so there’s about 10% they said are seeking a waiver, exemption of some sort.

And what about the Army’s deadline? Is that coming up?

The army gave their National Guard troops until June 2022 to get the vaccine, so they’ve got a little bit more leeway, and it’s hard to say if those troops are refusing or they’re just waiting until deadline. But the lawsuit from Gov. Abbott says that 40% of Army National Guard troops are refusing the vaccine.

Texas is not alone in suing the Biden administration over troop vaccinations, and I understand there has already been at least one similar lawsuit that’s something of a test case, is that right? 

Correct. Oklahoma’s governor has also filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the Pentagon’s mandate. And Oklahoma last week lost in court their request for an injunction to pause that mandate.

Is that likely to be how this particular case is going to be decided as well? To what extent will the Oklahoma case be a precedent?

I asked Ken, Ken Paxton’s office, the attorney general who filed the suit yesterday. That question, I didn’t get an answer. However, there was a win in Texas regarding vaccine mandates on Monday. There’s 35 sailors who have sued the federal government for the Navy’s mandate, and a judge in Texas said that the Navy has to hear their exemptions. They can’t just put a blanket “No” on all exemptions that are requested. It’s a violation of those sailors’ religious freedom.

One of Greg Abbott’s challengers in the gubernatorial primaries, retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West, blasted Abbott over working conditions and pay issues for Guard members participating in Operation Lone Star at the border. Then we have we have this announcement from Abbott on the vaccine mandate the same day. How much of this is politics?

That’s a really great question. I’ve been very interested to get down to Operation Lone Star myself and see those those working conditions that have been in question. It’s hard to really say right now how much of it’s just posturing for politics and how much fact there actually is.

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