Defense Secretary Hits Back At Gaetz’s Accusation Of ‘Wokeism’ In The Military

UNITED STATES - APRIL 5: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies during the House Armed Services Committee hearing titled “Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Budget Request,” in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also testified. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 5: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies during the House Armed Services Committee hearing titled Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Budget Request, in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Ma... UNITED STATES - APRIL 5: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies during the House Armed Services Committee hearing titled Fiscal Year 2023 Defense Budget Request, in Rayburn Building on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also testified. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) MORE LESS

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin found himself in a heated clash with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) after the GOP congressman rehashed right-wing grievances accusing the military of being more focused on “wokeism” instead of defense during a House Armed Services hearing on Tuesday.

While questioning Austin, Gaetz cited an article published in the right-wing outlet Washington Free Beacon to complain about a lecture that economist Thomas Piketty gave at the National Defense University about ”the case for global justice and democratic socialism” to combat China.

Austin replied that he was unaware of the lecture Gaetz referred to. Gaetz insisted that the lecture was “widely reported” before pressing Austin on whether he agreed that socialism is an ineffective strategy to combat China.

As soon as Austin replied that he does not agree with embracing socialism, the GOP congressman interrupted the Defense secretary. House Armed Services chairman, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) swiftly excoriated Gaetz for cutting into Austin’s remarks.

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When Austin attempted to ask for clarity on Gate’s questioning, the GOP congressman instead continued to gripe about how he views the U.S. as “blowing a lot of calls lately” when it comes to military strategy as the Pentagon proposes a $773 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

Gaetz continued undercutting Austin’s responses after the Defense secretary replied that the Pentagon’s budget proposal speaks for itself. The GOP congressman complained that the U.S. military had fallen “behind” China on hypersonic weapons.

Austin pushed back on Gaetz’s assertion.

“What do you mean we’re behind in hypersonics?” Austin shot back, while raising his voice. “How do you make that assessment?”

Another back and forth between Gaetz and Austin ensued when the Florida Republican rehashed a series of GOP culture wars that he suggested are indoctrinating the military: critical race theory, socialism and “mandatory pronoun training.”

Austin wasn’t having it.

“This is the most critical, the most combat-critical force in the world. It has been, and it will be so going forward,” Austin said.

“The fact that you’re embarrassed by your country?” Austin continued.

Gaetz then accused the Pentagon of getting “it wrong” when it came to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine — and used that swipe at Austin to allege that “wokeism” in the military has weakened its strategy.

“You guys said that Russia would overrun Ukraine in 36 days. You said that the Taliban would be kept at bay for months. You totally blew those calls,” Gaetz said. “And maybe we would be better at them if the National Defense University worked a little more on strategy and a little less on wokeism.”

Austin sharply rebuked Gaetz’s argument.

“Has it occurred to you has Russia has not overrun Ukraine because of what we’ve done?” Austin hit back. “And what our allies have done?”

This isn’t the first time Republican lawmakers have clashed with Pentagon leaders at congressional hearings over GOP culture war issues.

Last year, the Pentagon pushed back at GOP lawmakers who claimed Austin issued misleading remarks when denying that the department does not teach critical race theory — an academic and legal concept that conservatives have appropriated and hijacked as one of its many faux culture wars.

“There is no contradiction here. The Secretary’s comments stand,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Politico at the time. “That a professor at an academic institution such as the Air Force Academy teaches a given theory as part of an elective course does not in the slightest way signify some larger effort by the Department to teach, espouse or embrace said theory.”

“We expect our professors to challenge the minds of future leaders, and we respect their academic independence,” Kirby added.

Watch the heated exchange below:

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