Rep. Matt Gaetz clashed with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Tuesday House Armed Services Committee hearing.
While Austin defended U.S. military efforts related to Ukraine and the general strength of the military, Gaetz pressed the defense secretary over wokeism in the armed services.
Military.com recapped part of the fiery exchange:
“You guys said that Russia would overrun Ukraine in 36 days,” Gaetz said. “You said that the Taliban would be kept at bay for months. You totally blew those calls, and maybe we would be better at them if the National Defense University actually worked a little more on strategy and a little less on woke-ism.”
A fired-up Austin shot back: “Has it occurred to you Russia has not overrun Ukraine because of what we’ve done and what our allies have done? Have you ever even thought about that?”
Since the start of the Biden administration, conservatives have been accusing Pentagon leadership of being more focused on so-called “woke” ideas such as diversity, equity and inclusion than on combat effectiveness. Similar GOP criticism during last year’s House Armed Service Committee hearing with Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley prompted an impassioned response from Milley.
This year’s hearing took place amid the backdrop of the five-week-old war in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have so far failed to achieve any major goals in the face of what U.S. officials have described as disastrous logistics and stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance. American defense officials have acknowledged that there could have been an intelligence gap that led the U.S. to overestimate Russia and underestimate Ukraine before the invasion.
The back-and-forth started with Gaetz asking Austin questions about a taxpayer-funded lecture supporting socialism at the DOD-funded National Defense University, a reference to a recent virtual event hosted by the school titled “Responding to China: The Case For Global Justice and Democratic Socialism,” presented by French economist Thomas Piketty.
ABC News noted:
Austin said he was unaware of the lecture.
“So now that you know that they did this, would you agree that embracing socialism is not an effective strategy to combat China?” Gatez asked.
“I certainly don’t agree with embracing socialism,” Austin replied.
Gaetz continued, asking, “So why would we invite people we don’t agree with to evangelize views and values that we don’t share at the National Defense University, when we should be learning strategy about how to combat our enemies and make assessments that are accurate?”
Austin responded that learning strategy and other relevant subjects is the focus of military universities.
Decorum began to crumble as the two men started talking over one another, Gaetz reiterating the controversial content of the lecture, Austin reiterating that the Pentagon does not embrace socialism.
“I control the time!” Gaetz protested.
The Florida congressman proceeded to accuse the Defense Department of making poor predictions about the invasion of Ukraine and the fall of Afghanistan.
As the heated discussion continued, Austin implied Gaetz was being unpatriotic.
“The fact that you are embarrassed by your country, by your military, I am sorry for that,” Austin said.
“Oh no, no, I’m embarrassed by your leadership, I am not embarrassed for my country,” Gaetz responded.
“It’s what you’re saying, it’s what you’re saying,” Austin said.
“I wish we were not losing to China … That is so disgraceful that you would sit here and conflate your failures with the failures of the uniformed service members,” Gaetz replied.
Watch the full exchange below:
BREAKING@SecDef: “The fact that you’re embarrassed by your country. I’m sorry for that.”
Gaetz: “I’m embarrassed by YOUR leadership! I’m not embarrassed for my country. It’s disgraceful that you would sit here & conflate your failures with those of uniformed service members.” pic.twitter.com/mUfRNbY8Rt
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) April 5, 2022