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No, Biden didn’t ‘fire’ more than 200 Marines

January 6, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: “Joe Biden fired over 200 marines for refusing to take the COVID vaccine.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. As of Dec. 30, 206 Marines have been removed from the Marine Corps for refusing to comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate — but the removals were made by U.S. Marine Corps leadership, not the president, according to a Marine Corps spokesperson. Disciplinary decisions for armed service members are handled by the respective military services, the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense confirmed to The Associated Press.

THE FACTS: As COVID-19 vaccination deadlines for some armed service branches recently passed, social media users spread false claims about which authorities carried out the discipline for those who refused to get the vaccine.

All military troops were ordered to get a coronavirus vaccine under an August mandate issued by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The deadline for active-duty Marines to be vaccinated was Nov. 28, and the deadline for reservists to comply was Dec. 28.

Shortly after the final deadline, Nick Adams, president of The Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness, a conservative civic education organization, tweeted to his more than 223,000 followers: “Joe Biden fired over 200 Marines for refusing to take the COVID vaccine.”

Several other Twitter users repeated the same false claim.

But the assertion is incorrect about who is responsible for disciplining troops. A spokesperson for the U.S. Marine Corps confirmed that Corps leadership removed the Marines.

“Marines refusing the COVID-19 vaccination, absent an approved administrative or medical exemption, religious accommodation, or pending appeal shall be processed for administrative separation,” Cpt. Andrew R. Wood, a Marine Corps communication strategy officer wrote in an email, citing a Marine Administrative Message. “General Court-Martial Convening Authorities (GCMCA) retain authority to take any additional adverse administrative or disciplinary action they deem appropriate.”

The Marine Corps does not typically disclose what type of discharge a service member gets.

Adams’ Dec. 31 tweet was deleted as of early Jan. 6, hours after an inquiry from the AP. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The post echoes similar false claims that social media users shared in October, asserting that Biden had ordered dishonorable discharges for all troops who refused to be vaccinated. Dishonorable discharges are among the most serious, given after a court-martial for offenses such as felonies.

A Pentagon official told the AP in October that Biden had not issued any such order, and that the president does not have the authority to make those decisions. Similarly, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby addressed the vaccine mandate in a Sept. 24 briefing and said that commanders at local levels would be the ones to make punitive decisions “based on what’s best for them and for their units.”

The Biden administration did at one point oppose a proposal by the Pentagon to remove dishonorable discharges from the list of disciplinary options that could be used against service members who refuse COVID-19 vaccines. But while the administration disagreed with removing them from the list, it did not order that such punishments be carried out.

In fact, last month the president signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act — the annual bill that sets the DOD’s budget — with a provision that bars dishonorable discharges for service members who refuse the vaccine, the AP reported. The provision specifies they receive at least a general discharge, a less serious option.

The Marine vaccination rate is the lowest among the military services, the AP reported on Dec. 23. About 95% of the branch was at least partially vaccinated as of late last month, while the Army, Navy and Air Force all had nearly or more than 98% who have gotten at least one shot.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.