Down And Out In Nashville! Tennessee Misses Chance To Strut Hardcore Border Cred

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - JULY 15: Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gives the command to start engines prior to the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on July 15, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Ja... BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - JULY 15: Tennessee Governor Bill Lee gives the command to start engines prior to the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on July 15, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 30, 2021 3:40 p.m.

Can’t a GOP governor catch a break?

Red states around the country are flooding the southern border with as many as 50 cops or troops each to stem the tide of fentanyl-toting cartel members from Uzbekistan.

But Tennessee? So far, nothing from Gov. Bill Lee (R).

And that’s in spite of having a hometown billionaire ready to pay up. Patriot junkyard magnate Willis Johnson is paying for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) to send troops to the border.

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Tennessee, however, is missing the party. A spokesperson for Gov. Lee tried to assure TPM that all of Gov. Lee’s horses and all of Lee’s men would arrive shortly — a decision should come this week.

There’s “a shortage of state troopers,” Lee communications director Laine Arnold told TPM. That’s enough to keep volunteers from the volunteer state away.

“The recent requests have to do with law enforcement personnel,” Arnold said, pointing out that Tennessee has had 300 national guard members stationed there for the past six months.

That doesn’t quite get to the mystery here: why did Johnson, whose foundation is registered in Tennessee, wind up funding South Dakota’s deployment of 50 national guard troops to Texas?

Tennessee, after all, is far closer to Texas (and the southern border) than the faraway badlands.

Johnson told TPM on Tuesday that he picked South Dakota in part because Gov. Kristi Noem (R) “stood up for America.”

What, then, of Lee?

Other states, all with Republican governors, have begun to mobilize in response to Texas’s cries. Former president Trump is at the border on Wednesday, holding a press conference with Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a letter on June 10 asking all states for “all available law-enforcement resources” to secure the border.

“And although people are now coming to our border from as far away as Senegal, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan, the cartels are not exactly screening for threats to public health or national security,” the letter reads.

Arnold, the Lee spokesperson, emphasized to TPM that the “recent requests have to do with law enforcement personnel.”

Sending in more staff is “something we’re evaluating,” she added, before trying to buff Lee’s conservative bonafides by pointing out that he chairs the Republican Governors’ Association’s policy committee, giving him a key role in helping respond to any and all border issues. The Tennessee National Guard did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.

We’ll see.

Lindsay Cohn, a professor at the Naval War College who studies the national guard, told TPM that it was totally unclear what the actual mission of any troops would be, for two reasons.

“A — I haven’t seen any specifics,” Cohn told TPM. “B — it isn’t actually a crisis, so it isn’t clear what they’ll be doing.”

South Dakota guard officials have said that they’re still hammering out the details of the deployment with Texas. Cohn said that the two states would likely have to resolve questions around creating a chain of command for the troops before actual deployment.

“It is unusual for a state like South Dakota, which is far, far away from the border, to respond to that kind of call, and that’s really the direct indicator that this is very much a political action and not as much a security action,” she said.

Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem, has declined to provide details about the troops’ mission or deployment details, citing “security reasons.”

Cohn added that, apart from the detailed location of troops, it’s not clear what security concerns could prevent information about the mission.

“The idea that a whole bunch of immigrants who are desperately trying to cross the desert and get into the U.S., the idea that they’re researching the national guard tactics at the border and therefore you need to keep them secret so those people don’t figure it out — that’s very far-fetched,” she said.

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