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Pentagon deadlock over Oklahoma governor and vaccine intensifies

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Pentagon deadlock over Oklahoma governor and vaccine intensifies

WASHINGTON — The standoff between Oklahoma’s governor and the Pentagon over a coronavirus vaccine mandate for soldiers has turned into a storming test of federal power, as President Biden moves to require vaccinations for a broad swath of the US work force.

Last week, Oklahoma’s newly appointed Adjutant General for the National Guard, Brig. General Thomas H. Mancino announced on behalf of Governor Kevin Stitt that guardsmen in the state would not be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, defying a Pentagon directive issued in August that mandated vaccination for all soldiers, including Including the National Guard, as per the time limit set by each service branch.

“The order I issued came directly from the governor. This is a valid order for the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard,” General Mancino said in an interview, adding that he was vaccinated.

Pentagon officials said on Wednesday that failure to comply with “lawful medical readiness requirements” could “endanger” troops’ positions.

Officials say Mr Stitt has no legal position to overturn the mandate, although experts on the vague laws governing the Guard disagree. They note that unless deployed federally, members of the National Guard are under the jurisdiction of their state’s governor and are therefore not subject to a federal mandate. “Guard members can only serve one boss at a time,” said spokesman John Goehan. National Guard Association of the United States.

The Pentagon is not without redress. It can deny funding to state units or hinder the promotion of Guard members who refuse vaccination. Officials said Wednesday that Guard members who refused vaccinations could also face dismissal, as with active duty soldiers.

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Eugene Fidel, an assistant professor of law at New York University, said, “Oklahoma may be able to take this step as a legal matter, but there are certainly things the federal government could do in response that made it a painful Pyrrhic victory.” might.” law School. “The Governor and the Adjutant General of the State may thus find themselves in command of some very unhappy personnel.”

The Pentagon stands ready for other states to follow Oklahoma’s lead. So far no one has, but many are believed to be watching the situation closely, which could become the subject of lawsuits. “It could be contagious,” Mr Fidel said.

National Guard troops have been caught in political cross hairs over the past few years, including in 2018, when several governors said they would withdraw or call back their troops from the border with Mexico because the Trump administration decimated those adults. who had illegally crossed into the United States. Children. In 1986, several governors refrained from sending Guard troops to conduct maneuvers in Honduras ordered by President Ronald Reagan.

But these rare conflicts in the military have never been the focus of the vaccine mandates that have existed for decades.

The standoff, while limited in scope so far, demonstrates Biden’s headache as he pushes a January 4 deadline for large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations or begin weekly testing of their employees. The new rule, which will apply to companies with 100 or more employees, will cover about 84 million employees, and is already facing fierce resistance.

Mr Stitt is one of several Republican state officials who are opposing Mr Biden’s vaccine mandate covering federal employees and contractors.

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Some governors who have been more resistant to the mandate have so far refused to join Mr Stitt.

“I took the oath, and I intend to do what I promised to give to the nation,” Georgia National Guard chief General Thomas Carden told a local reporter last week. “It’s cut and dry for us.”

Spokesmen for the Guards in North Dakota and Florida – two other states whose governors oppose vaccine mandates – said they were complying with the Pentagon’s order, while Texas officials were more vague.

“The decision of whether or not to receive the vaccination is an individual matter each soldier and airman must weigh. The Texas National Guard provides each service member with the resources necessary to make an informed decision,” said an unnamed spokesperson through an email query. said in response.

While the vast majority of active duty soldiers have been vaccinated, the percentage of those in the Guard is drawn below the average for the civilian population. In Oklahoma, 89 percent of Airmen in the Guard have been vaccinated, while only 40 percent of Army Guards have been shot.

General Mancinoe issued his memorandum a day after Mr. Stitt dismissed his predecessor, Major General Michael C. Thompson, a proponent of vaccines.

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