Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reacts to a question in January 2021 during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reacts to a question in January 2021 during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing. (EJ Hersom/DOD)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday agreed to slash Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s salary to no more than $1 after berating the top civilian military leader for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the military’s recruitment struggles.

The measure nearly eliminates Austin’s annual $221,000 salary and followed similar salary reductions for Defense Department positions involved in diversity programs. The pay cuts are likely doomed in the Democrat-led Senate but showed the hostility some Republicans have for military leaders appointed by President Joe Biden and the progressive social policies that they support.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., introduced the amendment targeting Austin, the nation’s first Black defense secretary, during ongoing debate over the Pentagon’s 2024 budget. It was approved in a voice vote and Democrats did not ask for a follow-up roll call vote that might have prevented adoption of the amendment.

“Secretary Austin has not fulfilled his job duties. As a matter of fact, he’s destroying our military,” Greene said. “Many Americans agree we do not want the United States military led by failure causing us to be weak.”

Greene blasted Austin for recruitment numbers that are at “crisis levels,” continued aid for the war in Ukraine that is “leading us undoubtedly to World War III” and the discharge of more than 8,000 service members for refusing to take the coronavirus vaccine.

Greene is a far-right conservative who earlier this year was expelled from the House Freedom Caucus, a group of other hard-right Republicans, after insulting one of their members.

Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., offered his support for Greene’s amendment, pointing to high suicide rates among service members and veterans and the death of 13 troops during the military’s evacuation from Afghanistan in 2021.

“[Austin] is directly responsible for abandoning thousands of American citizens and our allies to terrorists in Afghanistan,” said Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL who deployed to the country.

Democrats dismissed the attack on Austin as a political stunt. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., defended Austin’s performance as defense secretary and said he has been instrumental to helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion and strengthening defense partnerships around the world.

“You may disagree with the administration’s policies, as we all have done over our careers with different administrations, but Secretary Austin has done nothing to merit this amendment,” McCollum said. “There’s no need for us to make such a personal, drastic attack by eliminating his pay.”

A spokesperson for the Pentagon said it would be inappropriate for the Defense Department to comment on pending legislation.

The House is expected to vote on the full defense appropriations bill later this week. The White House threatened to veto it earlier this month over controversial provisions that would overturn the Pentagon’s abortion access policy for troops and restrict health care for transgender service members.

The House’s adoption of the defense bill will not help stave off a government shutdown set to begin Saturday. Hard-right conservatives in the lower chamber, where Republicans hold a narrow majority, remain resistant to passing a stopgap funding measure before the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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