Abbott: Pentagon ‘should not’ impose unvaccinated troops quarantined in Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has no legal authority to order the unvaccinated airmen and soldiers returning from overseas deployed to Texas to be quarantined.

Abbott’s position is joined by six other Republican governors and two Democratic governors on a letter sent to the Pentagon Friday. The nine Republican governors are participating in the letter because Texas is expected to lead an operation that would send extra National Guard members to fight the threat of a deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

“As of right now, the National Guard’s policy is that anyone who is deemed to be medically unfit to deploy abroad remains deployed abroad,” Abbott said Friday. “The Pentagon should not attempt to impose an extra layer of administrative restrictions.”

The governor said, “I encourage the Pentagon to follow Army regulations concerning allowing people who are medically unfit to deploy to return to their military roles.”

However, National Guard spokesman Nick Schwellenbach said Abbott is incorrectly suggesting the policy of allowing those unfit to deploy remains in effect. Rather, Schwellenbach said the National Guard will “still work with the Department of Defense to manage the deployment and return of those who are medically unfit,” and to protect the health of all service members.

The Pentagon has launched a 45-day review into how the Pentagon handled initial cases of state-level efforts to quarantine people returning from active duty. Officials initially allowed schools, day cares and public pools to enroll children but quickly reversed course and made clear the ban had no legal grounding.

“I certainly hope that we can get this clarified quickly as that’s a huge problem right now,” Abbott said. “We should not, and I don’t believe we will, allow (service members) to sit home from their jobs or from their units as a result of vaccinations not working.”

The letter comes as Washington weighs whether to use federal authority to step in to block states from telling families to keep ailing children home.

Earlier this month, the governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, expressed outrage at the Pentagon’s order requiring unvaccinated state National Guard members to enroll in a clinic to get vaccinated. Cooper’s reversal of that policy triggered bipartisan criticism from fellow governors in Kentucky, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Cooper said the Pentagon’s directive was a “calculated attempt to put our guard members, moms and dads, kids in public schools and pools, and churches at risk.” He contends the Pentagon had no legal authority to order the vaccinations.

Earlier this month, Abbott followed Cooper’s lead and opted not to allow the Kansas National Guard to include unvaccinated children in school attendance. The decision followed public backlash over the Kansas Guard’s plans to send unvaccinated troops back to duty.

The Pentagon had dispatched a team of health officials to Kansas to help resolve the standoff between the state and Pentagon. After four days of talks, Health Secretary Tom Price acknowledged the entire matter was “unlikely to be resolved,” but he noted he “would not allow the use of military space or equipment” for vaccinations without Pentagon approval.

Officials said the Kansas Guard would continue to vaccinate its troops but would not send them to deployment overseas.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that states consider vaccinating troops for the new highly contagious strain of polio while they are deployed overseas. But state health departments have objected and have imposed blanket limits on who can be vaccinated and who cannot be vaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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