Matt Gaetz Slams Military 'Wokeism' in Heated Clash With Defense Secretary

Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, was involved in a heated exchange Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin during a House Armed Services hearing.

While speaking with Austin, Gaetz claimed the U.S. military had fallen behind China in terms of weapons capability and also said recent military assessments in Russia were inaccurate due to U.S. Department of Defense being too focused on "wokeism."

Austin appeared before the House Armed Services Committee with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley to discuss President Joe Biden's 2023 defense budget request. Gaetz began his questioning of Austin by bringing up how the National Defense University—a higher education institution funded by the Pentagon—recently held a lecture in which socialism was mentioned as a possible tool to battle China's ideology.

When Gaetz argued that the U.S. was not competing with China's military developments, Austin countered by saying, "This is the most capable, most combat critical force in the world, it has been and it will be so going forward, and this budget helps us to do that."

"Not if we continue down this path. Not if we continue to embrace socialism," Gaetz responded.

The two men continued arguing, with Austin stating, "The fact that you're embarrassed by your country, by your military. I'm sorry for that."

"Oh no. I'm embarrassed for your leadership. I am not embarrassed for my country," Gaetz said.

Lloyd Austin
Florida Representative Matt Gaetz and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had a heated exchange during a hearing Tuesday on President Joe Biden's budget request. In this photo, Ausin appears before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on April 5, in Washington, D.C. Getty

Gaetz's contention that the U.S. military was not on the same level as China in terms of military technology came from his claim that the Communist country had more hypersonic weapon capability.

"What do you mean? We're behind in hypersonics? How do you make that assessment?" Austin asked.

"Your own people brief us that we're behind and China is winning," Gaetz answered. "Are you aware of the briefings we get on hypersonics?"

"I am certainly aware of briefings that we provide to Congress," Austin said.

On Monday, CNN reported that the U.S. military had tested a hypersonic missile last month but kept the successful results secret due to the current strained relations with Russia. Another recent test of a hypersonic system by the U.S. military reportedly failed.

Meanwhile, China and Russia have both touted successful tests of hypersonic weapons over the past year.

Gaetz also claimed the Pentagon "got it wrong" for saying "Russia would overrun Ukraine in 36 days" and that the "Taliban would be kept at bay for months" instead of taking over Afghanistan soon after the U.S. pulled out troops last year.

"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 wokeism," Gaetz said.

"Has it occurred to you that Russia has not overrun Ukraine because of what we've done and what our allies have done? Have you ever even thought about that?" Austin asked.

During the exchange, Gaetz also took rhetorical shots at critical race theory and "mandatory pronoun training." The moment also didn't mark the first time the Florida lawmaker has given a harsh critique of Austin's job performance. During a speech last August, Gaetz said the secretary of defense "might be the stupidest person" to ever serve in a presidential Cabinet.

Newsweek contacted Gaetz and the U.S. Department of Defense for comment but did not hear back from either in time for publication.