A standoff between the governor of Oklahoma and the Pentagon over a coronavirus vaccine mandate for troops has turned into a stormy test of federal power, as President Joe Biden moves to require vaccinations for a broad swath of the American workforce.
Oklahoma’s newly appointed adjutant general for the National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, announced last week on behalf of Gov. Kevin Stitt that guardsmen in the state would not be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The policy defies a Pentagon directive issued in August that makes vaccination mandatory for all troops, including the National Guard, by deadlines set by each service branch.
“The order I issued came directly from the governor. That is the lawful order to the men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard,” Mancino said in an interview, adding that he had been vaccinated.
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Pentagon officials said Wednesday that failure to follow “valid medical readiness requirements” could “jeopardize” the status of service members, who could face dismissal or other punishment.
The officials insist that Stitt has no legal standing, although experts on the obscure laws governing the National Guard disagree. They note that unless National Guard members are federally deployed, they are under the jurisdiction of the governor of their state and therefore not subject to federal mandates. “Guard members can only serve one boss at a time,” said John Goheen, a spokesperson for the National Guard Association of the United States.
The Pentagon is not without redress. It could deny funding to state units or impede the promotions of Guard members who refuse to be vaccinated. Officials said Wednesday that Guard members who refused vaccination also could face dismissal, as with active duty troops.