House Republicans attack the Pentagon for ‘woke’ policies

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are considering opening a new front in the culture wars: attacking the Pentagon for its “woke” social policies.

GOP leaders won a first skirmish. Congress has passed a defense bill that will no longer require service members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine — one of several military policies the future Republican-led House could highlight in the next Congress.

GOP members of congressional military oversight committees signal they will target the Pentagon over the military academies’ racial agenda, efforts to root extremists from the ranks and funding for troop abortions. The issue could receive increased attention in this Congress, as Republican members, who will now control the House of Representatives and its committees, will have more influence on the agenda of the chamber.

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“I looked at what the Democrats did in a lot of them, especially in the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] and the ‘wake-up-ism’ they want to bring to it,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, who is on the way to becoming House Speaker, said at a news conference in November.

A 2022 survey by the non-profit Reagan Foundation found that 50% of respondents believed that so-called “woke” practices somehow undermined military effectiveness.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has more pressing items on his agenda, said Sabrina Singh, the Pentagon’s deputy press secretary.

Austin, she said, “is focused on the priorities he set out at the start of this administration – defending the nation, deterring strategic attacks on the United States, allies and partners, deterring aggression and build a lethal and resilient joint force – and we will continue to work with Congress in a bipartisan and bicameral manner, as we always do.”

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, who chaired the House Armed Services Committee in the last Congress, said the discussion surrounding these social policies should be framed differently — with more emphasis on fighting bigotry and racism.

“The debate around it has been really silly trying to put it in a box of ‘woke’ or ‘not woke,'” he said.

The COVID Mandate

Staff Sgt. Travis Snyder, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine administered at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, Dec. 16, 2020, south of Seattle.

Congress in December passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which directs Pentagon spending, that included a provision reversing the mandate that all troops must receive the COVID-19 vaccine. More than 3,700 Marines, 1,800 soldiers and 2,000 sailors have been fired for refusing to be vaccinated, according to Pentagon data.

“There were a lot of service members who were harmed by this policy,” said Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., an Army veteran.

Mast-sponsored legislation that would allow service members to return to duty at their same rank if they were terminated due to a refusal to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., who served on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, said the COVID-19 vaccine played a role in recruits’ willingness to join the military.

“I would say that if 33% of 16 to 28 year olds are not going to get vaccinated, the vaccine mandate has to play a role there,” he said during a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum last month. last. , referring to declining recruitment figures.

But a Pentagon survey of young people from January to September found the majority said the vaccine mandate did not change their likelihood of joining the military, according to DOD’s Singh. Some of the respondents said the warrant increased their likelihood of enrolling.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., a former Air Force officer who grew up in a military family, said she opposes revoking the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, but understands that this was part of the negotiations necessary to pass the defense bill.

Service members must meet many military readiness requirements, one being vaccinations, to maintain the health of the organization, she said.

“I’m worried about kind of a slippery slope of what that might mean for other similar requirements,” Houlahan said.

Other “woke” policies

Workers begin laying the bronze statue of Confederate General AP Hill onto a flatbed truck Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Workers still plan to exhume General Hill's remains from inside the base of the statue.

Critical Race Theory

Some Republicans point to what they say is the teaching of critical race theory at service academies. Critical Race Theory is an academic framework that examines how racism permeates institutions.

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he received complaints from the family of a cadet at West Point who were furious about a course called ‘Understanding your whiteness and your rage white”. Waltz, an Army National Guard colonel and Green Beret, called the course “incredibly divisive” and said it “has no place in the military.”

West Point said it had never offered such a course.

“There is no class at West Point on ‘Understanding Your Whiteness’ or any professor who teaches that the Republican Party is a party of white supremacy,” West Point’s public affairs office said in a statement.

But Smith, the Washington congressman, said students could encounter critical race theory and lessons about communism and Marxism. These are theories that are present in the world and that have an impact on the way the military does its job and deals with society.

“It’s education,” he says.


Abortion politics is likely to become another battleground. A Pentagon policy being drafted would cover travel costs for troops to obtain an abortion if they are serving in a state that does not provide them, said Army Maj. Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesman. It would also give them free time.

The proposal followed the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, eliminating the federal abortion access guarantee. The proposed policy is unlikely to withstand legal challenges, Waltz said.

Smith said he thought the policy “made a lot of sense.”

“Women should have the right to access the health care they need,” he said. “I definitely think that’s going to be a barrier to recruiting the military that we need if they know they’re going into the military and serving, they’re not going to get that health care.”


Among Austin’s first acts as chief of defense, he ordered a review of extremism among the troops. A month after the Jan. 6 uprising, Austin asked commanders to take a day to highlight “the importance of our oath of office; a description of inadmissible behavior; and procedures for reporting suspected or actual extremist behavior.” .

“That was his primary concern, and he testified to the rise of white extremism within the military,” Waltz said.

The Pentagon’s own data shows the concern may have been overblown, Waltz said. There are over 2 million active duty and reserve soldiers in the military. The Pentagon’s review found 211 allegations of extremist behavior that resulted in 183 referrals, inquiries and investigations, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general. Of these, there were 48 cases in which troops were subjected to some type of action, and 46 cases resulted in no action. There were 112 referrals to civilian law enforcement agencies.

This data does not fit the narrative that there is a problem with extremism within the military, Waltz said. Yet Pentagon leaders maintain a “hyper focus” on diversity, equity and inclusion, a stance that can hurt recruiting, he said.

Why are “woke” questions important to Republicans?

In 2006, the army faced a recruitment crisis. Insurgents in Iraq were killing or wounding dozens of soldiers a week, the war was becoming increasingly unpopular, and the military could not achieve its goals to fill its ranks. Standards for recruits were relaxed and the army began taking in volunteers aged 42.

Gallagher said the issue of “revival” resonates with Republicans.

It’s fair to criticize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, Gallagher said at the Reagan Forum on National Defense. They add another layer of bureaucracy to an institution that is already heavily bureaucratic, he said.

Republicans are concerned that DEI programs either have no impact or are actively counterproductive and increase friction within the forces, Gallagher said.

The Pentagon’s focus on cultural issues distracts from its primary goal of “winning our nation’s wars,” Waltz said. He cited threats from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as well as global terrorism as higher priorities.

Representative Mast added that these cultural policies are “a very big problem” for recruits and their parents.

“These are literally topics and questions that have come up in very busy meetings I’ve had with parent groups,” Mast said. The problem is “very important, people pay attention to it”.

But for some Democrats, all this focus on “woke” issues is simply about Republicans wanting to create a “caricature” of Democrats while acting as if racism and bigotry aren’t worth addressing.

“Republicans just want to use it as a political piñata for their own personal political advancement and to throw Biden and the US military out because it’s politically convenient for them rather than seriously considering how we balance these issues of race and sex,” Smith said. .

USA Today

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