June 18, 2020

At SASC Hearing, Warren Questions Nominee for National Guard Chief on Role of Guard Soldiers at Peaceful Protest in Lafayette Square and How He Will Resist Political Interference

If confirmed, Hokanson will become one of the President's most senior military advisors; Warren urges him to send a clear message that diversity and inclusion make our military and our country stronger

Video of Hearing Exchange (Youtube)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), questioned Lieutenant General Daniel Hokanson, who has been nominated to be Chief of the National Guard Bureau, on the role of National Guard soldiers in the attack on peaceful protestors at the White House on June 1st and if the General will resist political interference that undermines civilian-military relations. 

Citing the urgency of confronting systemic racism in the wake of recent killings of Black Americans, Senator Warren also asked General Hokanson to send a clear message that diversity and inclusion make our military and our country stronger.

Thursday, June 18, 2020
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee

Video (YouTube)

Elizabeth Warren: Thank you Mr. Chairman and General Hokanson, congratulations on your nomination. I'd like to have your views on the use of the military in response to peaceful protests and other acts of civil disobedience on America's streets. I was very troubled that the National Guard soldiers were deployed in Washington on June 1 to disperse people who were protesting systemic racism. That response, including using DC National Guard helicopters, one of which was a medical evacuation helicopter, and using them to fly dangerously low over protestors. This tactic blew debris everywhere, it kicked up dirt, it snapped trees. I know this incident is under investigation, but I'm raising this with you because you have been nominated to be the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. So, General Hokanson, engaging in peaceful protests is protected by our constitution. If the National Guard is deployed in an area involving peaceful protests in the future, how would you ensure that guardsmen clearly understand the type of orders under which they have been activated and the activities that are within the scope of their mission?

General Daniel R. Hokanson: Senator, thank you for that very timely question. So when we look at our National Guardsman when they are called to duty by their governors, we rely heavily on our states' adjutant general to make sure that they are properly trained and equipped for anything they are asked to do. And one of those includes de-escalatory measures. And if you look at the height of where we were at almost -- we had over 43,000 in 34 states just a couple of weeks ago and we're now below down 4,000. I think that shows the ability for us to help de-escalate those situations. But Senator, my pledge to you is that we will always operate in accordance with laws and policies, and frankly the expectations of our citizens. 

EW: Well, thank you very much, I appreciate this General. Let me ask you, I just want to stay on this June 1 incident in Lafayette Square for just a minute. Federal law enforcement officers used rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful protestors, so that the president could take a photo-op in front of the church. And I was troubled when I saw the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dressed in battle fatigues, walking with the president to participate in this photo-op. I also found it disturbing when General Milley was walking on a D.C. street later that night to observe National Guard operations. I believe these actions were highly inappropriate and that they undermine civilian-military relations. So I raise this example because if confirmed, you will become one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which are the president's most critical military advisors. So it is important for all of us to know if you can resist political interference. General Milley apologized for his presence in Lafayette Square and here's part of what he said. I just want to read it. "We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation, and we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our Republic." So, General Hokanson, a simple yes or no will do. Do you agree?

DH: Yes, Senator.

EW: Thank you. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, as well as the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery have underlined the urgency of confronting racism against Black Americans. Some of our military leaders have used this moment as an opportunity to remind their ranks about what our country and our military stand for. In a recent letter titled -- quote -- "We Must Do Better," the current chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph L. Lengyel said, "If we are to fulfill our obligation as service members, as Americans, and as decent human beings, we have to take our oath seriously. We cannot tolerate racism, discrimination or casual violence. We cannot abide divisiveness and hate. We cannot stand by and watch." So, General Hokanson, do you agree with General Lengyel, and if confirmed, what message you will send to our citizen soldiers, our airmen, and our communities they protect about the values of the Guard, especially as the country works to make real change to address systemic racism? 

DH: Senator, I agree with General Lengyel's comments, and if confirmed, I would follow the same.

EW: Thank you very much General. I appreciate it. If confirmed, you will be responsible for training our next generation of leaders. At this critical moment in our nation's history, it is important to send a clear message that diversity and inclusion make our military and our country stronger. So I appreciate your commitment. Thank you very much General and thank you very much Mr. Chairman.