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Vice presidents are not required to salute service members

March 26, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Vice President Kamala Harris disrespected the military when she failed to salute the military escorts when boarding Air Force Two on March 19 in Georgia.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The U.S. president and vice president are not required to salute troops. A Pentagon spokesperson said the vice president is viewed as respectful toward the military. 

THE FACTS: After Harris wrapped up her trip to Georgia to meet with grieving members of the Asian American community following a mass shooting, social media users began sharing a video of her boarding Air Force Two claiming she had failed to salute the troops at the base of the stairs. 

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The video, viewed more than 900,000 times online on Twitter, was shared widely by conservative social media accounts in an attempt to paint the vice president as unpatriotic and disrespectful to service members. 

“DISGRACEFUL:@VP Kamala Harris refuses to salute the honor guard at the steps of the aircraft. It is a clear demonstration of her dislike for those in uniform, both law-enforcement and military,” tweeted Bernard Kerik, former New York City police commissioner

While Harris did not salute the troops, she is not required to. 

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement that there is no instruction or regulation requiring the president or the vice president to return a hand salute to members of the Armed Forces. 

“Vice President Harris has made very clear her respect and admiration for the men and women of the military, as well as their families,” Kirby said. 

According to Army regulation, the president as the commander-in-chief is required to receive a salute, but there is no requirement that the vice president receive a salute. 

“Some are trying to suggest the Vice President lacks respect for our military – this could not be further from the truth,” Sabrina Singh, deputy press secretary to the vice president, said in a statement.

In addition, Harris has no responsibility to salute the troops.

“She has no authority over them according to the Constitution,” Richard Waterman, University of Kentucky presidential historian, said in an email. “Her constitutional function is to serve as President of the Senate. Saluting the troops would be an act of courtesy, but this is another example of politics as usual in Washington.”

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It’s not the first time a member of the White House has been criticized over saluting service members. Former President Barack Obama made headlines not once, but twice while in office. In 2013, Obama walked by a service member as he boarded Marine One without a salute, returning a few moments later to shake the guard’s hand. A year later, he again made headlines when he saluted troops with a coffee cup in his hand as he departed Marine One.

“It seems like a page ripped from an old sad book,” Thomas Whalen, a presidential historian at Boston University, said in an email. “It smears liberal Democrats and people of color by suggesting they are unpatriotic. It’s reprehensible to say the least. But that’s where we are as a country in 2021.”

Before Obama, critics were also not happy with former President George W. Bush holding his dog, Barney, as he attempted to salute in 2001. 

According to historians, Ronald Reagan was the first president to regularly salute troops.  

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Associated Press reporter Lolita Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536