Day 2: Lankford Continues to Stand with National Guard, Opposes Pay Cuts Over Vaccine Mandates
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today stood firmly again with the Oklahoma National Guard and Guard members around the nation and again offered his bill on the Senate floor. Late last night, Lankford offered the legislation as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to prohibit the Department of Defense from discharging or withholding pay or benefits from members of the National Guard because of their COVID–19 vaccination status.
Members and leaders of the Oklahoma National Guard have reached out to Lankford’s office to express their grave concerns as earlier this week Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a memorandum to warn unvaccinated National Guard members that they will not be paid or allowed to participate in training, and deployments if they don’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine. While the Defense Secretary can establish readiness requirements, he lacks the constitutional or statutory authority to enforce this type of requirement on Soldiers and Airmen within a state when the National Guard are not federally “activated” or deployed in defense of the nation. That power and authority regarding the Oklahoma National Guard is reserved to Governor Stitt at this time and he has sued to maintain that authority. Lankford’s amendment ensures Congress clearly maintains that important distinction with regard to the COVID-19 vaccination status.
Lankford has been vocal about President Biden’s Executive Order. Lankford introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act with Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS) to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Lankford sent a letter to President Biden outlining his concerns with the vaccine mandates and has stood firmly with Oklahoma service members, health care workers, federal employees, and private-sector workers who have chosen so far not to be vaccinated. Lankford called out President Biden and Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for not responding to a letter he sent in September calling on Austin to protect service members from being forced to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and serving in our nation’s military or National Guard.
Mr. President, we have a problem in our National Guard right now. This body knows full well where I’ve been on the vaccine mandates coming down from the President. I have adamantly opposed the vaccine mandates on private-sector employees, which I find absurd that the President is announcing to every company with 100 people or more ‘I’m going to take over the contracts for employment of your company and no matter how long that employee has been there, how valuable they are to the company, you need to fire them if they don’t follow the vaccine mandate.’ That is not the right of a president.
He’s formed chaos with our federal workers. It has formed chaos in our contractors for federal employees.
Let me tell you what’s happening in the National Guard right now. Tuesday of this week, November 30, Secretary of Defense sent a letter saying that by today, December 2, every person in the national guard had to be vaccinated or they would no longer be paid. No that applied to the Air National Guard as of today, but the Army National Guard, that doesn’t apply until June 30 to be able to fulfill this mandate. I’ve been clear, I’m adamantly opposed to the mandate, period. But to then make it unequal between the Air National Guard and the Army National Guard is even worse. And on top of all of that, what the Administration did as of this week, they sent out information for the Air National Guard members, and I assume for the Army National Guard starting in June that is going to be a different process.
Title 32 is the authority for the National Guard. Now, for the folks that aren’t following this, for folks in this body that do, some people get confused between the Reserves and the Guard. They are not the same. The Reserves are like active duty. The Guard, actually, work for the Governor of each state. Each state has accountability for the Guard members, and there’s a responsibility to make sure they’re trained and ready and equipped for federal service if they’re called up for federal service. But when they’re under what’s called Title 32 authority, they work for the governor of the state. If a unit is not prepared, the state is punished for their lack of preparation, so funds can be taken away from the state, but not going down to individual members of the guard.
What did the Pentagon do this week? The pentagon this week announced that not only are they not going to pay individual members, but they’re literally reaching down into a unit, identifying members that have not received the vaccine, and they’re not going to pay that person. There is no authority in law for the Pentagon to do that. In fact, that was debated in this body several years ago, and this body voted no on that. The Pentagon does not have the authority to reach into the governor’s National Guard and determine who will be paid and who will not be paid in the National Guard. But that’s exactly what the President is trying to do and what the Pentagon is trying to do.
Why is this a big issue? Because the Air National Guard, as of tomorrow that are not vaccinated will not be paid, and this weekend they cannot go to drill. Why is that a big issue? Many of the folks in the Air National Guard that are not vaccinated are the pilots. If we’re going to talk about military readiness, I understand the differences of opinion here in the vaccine mandates, and some people have no issue with the vaccine mandates. I do. But we should all agree on military readiness. We should all agree on following the law and not allowing the Pentagon and the President to deliberately violate the law that we wrote and the president has signed, in violating Title 32.
Last night, I was on the very same floor at this very same desk asking for an amendment on the NDAA. Today, I understand I’m not getting that amendment on the NDAA. I’ve taken that same amendment and I’ve moved it into language that we can use as a standalone bill. This is a very simple, straightforward, no issues, no ancillary—anything on the bill. It simply says that we cannot allow the Administration or the Pentagon, any one of them to violate the law, to be able to reach into the National Guard unit and identify individuals and not identify individual members and not pay them. That’s already law. We’re just affirming the law that already is.
The second thing is not allowing them to be able to cut off pay based on their vaccination status in the National Guard when they’re in Title 32 status. That means they’re working for the governor of that state. They’ve not been activated to federal duty. That is a big issue, and it’s a big issue right now, because the Air National Guard members and many of our pilots are about to stop training right now.
And in the day ahead for the Army Nation Guard, I remind this body of a number that most of us know only 40 percent of our Guard members are vaccinated, meaning 60 percent are not. Are we really ready to lose that much readiness over this issue? I would hope note.
I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to immediate consideration of calendar number 174, S. 3299. I further ask that the bill be considered, read a third time, and passed. And that the Motion to Reconsidered be Considered mand and laid upon the table.
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