Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., pledged this week to block any of President Joe Biden's nominations for the U.S. Department of Defense until the White House explains why it hasn't acknowledged "tens of thousands" of COVID-19 vaccine-exemption requests from military service members.
During a Monday press call, Lankford told The Daily Signal "this is not over."
He said the Pentagon has a clearly defined process for making decisions based on religious accommodations.
And yet, thousands of service members have yet to receive clarity on their religious-exemption requests involving the vaccine mandate.
"This one just seems to be hanging out there," Lankford told The Daily Signal, while characterizing the Pentagon's response delay as "absurd."
Two weeks ago, Lankford made a similar statement about the Department of Defense, tweeting, "I've demanded answers on why the Biden [administration] has granted almost none of the thousands of religious exemption requests for military vaccine mandates.
"With no adequate response, I announced a hold on DOD nominees. Partial concessions in the NDAA won't be enough — we need the truth," added Lankford, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
According to U.S. Army statistics, 4,400 active Army members requested permanent religious exemption to the COVID-19 vaccine in the last year — a figure that does not include National Guard or Army Reserve officers.
The Army reportedly approved 119 requests and rejected 1,797 requests. However, that still leaves 2,524 incomplete requests.
The Daily Signal also reported that only 200 of 11,000 vaccine-exemption requests have been granted in the U.S. Air Force.
In August, Lankford reportedly sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, expressing concerns about the "deplorable living conditions for service members who have religious objections to the COVID vaccine."
Lankford wrote: "At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of care for the service members you lead. At worst, it demonstrates an active [disdain] for and hostility toward them."
The Oklahoma Republican continued: "Sailors recount being transferred to living quarters covered in mold, sewage, and with no access to clean or running water. One sailor testified to organisms living in the stagnant water that surrounds her bathroom.
"Photo evidence revealed unlivable conditions that no person should be subjected to, let alone our men and women in uniform. These conditions render that of an authoritarian and abusive government, which falls far below the standard of the military of the greatest nation on earth."
Last week on Newsmax, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., offered a similar warning to the Pentagon in potentially holding up Biden's DOD nominations.
Tuberville demanded the White House provide the Senate with more information on the DOD's quest to unilaterally impose changes to the U.S. service members' access to reproductive healthcare.
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