WASHINGTON — The presence of National Guard troops in Texas to combat the coronavirus pandemic will continue to be fully funded by the federal government through the end of the year in a deal received by only one other state — Florida.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott applauded the Monday decision by President Donald Trump, calling the National Guard funding and support a vital part of Texas’ fight to defeat the virus. All other states and territories will be left to shoulder 25% of the costs associated with their deployments, despite a handful being in the midst of outbreaks worse than those Texas and Florida by several metrics.
The National Guard, which was activated by Abbott in March, has assisted in Texas with field testing and conducting antibody tests, built field hospitals and distributed personal protective equipment, among other duties. In all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia, about 25,000 guard troops are assisting with similar tasks, according to the National Guard Association, which represents thousands of members of the guard.
“The Texas National Guard plays a vital role in our response and recovery efforts, and I thank President Trump for extending this federal funding,” Abbott said in a Tuesday statement reacting to Trump’s announcement. “The Lone Star State remains vigilant in our efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 and we will continue to work alongside our federal partners to keep Texans safe.”
But critics of Trump’s decision accused the president of playing favorites in an election year by maintaining funding for two states that he won in 2016 and which are poised to be battlegrounds this November.
“With American lives at risk, the president is continuing to manipulate our nation’s pandemic response to benefit his own political fortunes,” Noam Lee, the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, told Politico. “While the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between ‘red’ states or ‘blue’ states, it is disturbingly clear that our president does.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said every state should be reimbursed by the federal government for their National Guard deployment.
“It’s shameful that President Trump is again politicizing the frontline work of our National Guard,” he tweeted Wednesday.
The Department of Defense declined to comment, calling the extension “a presidential decision” and referred queries to the White House. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
In his Monday memorandum announcing the decision, Trump cited the U.S. transitioning “to a period of increased economic activity and recovery in those areas of the Nation where the threat posed by COVID-19 has been sufficiently mitigated.”
Texas has the seventh most cases per capita in the country and Florida has the third most, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Mississippi, Alabama and Nevada all have a higher percentage of tests coming back positive for the coronavirus than Florida, which sits at a seven-day average of 18.2%, according to a Johns Hopkins University Database. In Texas, 14% of tests are coming back positive — a lower rate than Arizona, South Carolina and Idaho, as well as Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Nevada.
John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association, told The Dallas Morning News “I don’t know” why Trump decided to continue the 100% funding for only Texas and Florida, and he said he didn’t expect to receive an explanation.
Trump’s decision came days before states would have been forced on Friday to pull their guard personnel from duty in order to give them two weeks to quarantine before returning to their home communities when funding for the mission ran out Aug. 21.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle lobbied Trump for months to extend the authorization as governors warned that transitioning their forces would create disruptions in combating the virus.
The National Governors Association, made up of Democratic and Republican governors, accused the Trump administration of “unnecessary delays” in a Monday press release before Trump announced his decision, saying the uncertainty would “create significant challenges for states and territories, which are amplified in the middle of a crisis.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and chair of the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico that Trump’s extension with the limits on funding is a “half measure.”
“I oppose a half measure,” he said. “I’m worried the White House is trying to downplay the severity of both the virus and the economic crisis. They think if they don’t acknowledge it, it will go away. But that’s incredibly dangerous. There are many states that need that help.”
A spokesman for Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, and the highest-ranking Republican on Armed Services, said Thornberry “has asked the Department of Defense for more information and for clarification of the policy” and declined to comment further.
Trump’s Monday night memorandum extended the deployment of guard members nationwide to Dec. 31 — making it the guard’s longest active-duty mission for a domestic emergency.