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Gov. Tony Evers orders withdrawal of Wisconsin National Guard from southwest border

Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers serving with Detachment 1, Headquarters, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Multi-Component Unit, listen to remarks from senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders Feb. 25, 2016 at Fort Campbell, Ky. (Capt. Joe Trovato/Wisconsin National Guard)

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Monday ordered Wisconsin National Guard troops assisting with security at the southwest border to return home, an executive order immediately drawing criticism from Republicans.

About 112 Wisconsin National Guardsmen currently serve in Arizona, according to an announcement from the Democratic governor’s office Monday. Evers said the responsibility in keeping borders safe and crime-free belongs to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

“There is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention that there exists a national security crisis at our southwestern border,” Evers said in a statement. “I cannot support keeping our brave service men and women away from their families without a clear need or purpose that would actively benefit the people of Wisconsin or our nation.”

President Donald Trump in April directed the Department of Defense to support the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure the Mexican border.

The Wisconsin National Guard said in June that Arizona officials requested Wisconsin’s assistance, and Evers’ predecessor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, deployed troops there. Walker’s re-election campaign paid for online ads voicing support for sending troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Evers’ move drew widespread criticism from top state Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Securing our borders is a top priority of our nation, and I’m proud of Wisconsin’s National Guard for playing a valued role,” Johnson said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate Governor Evers doesn’t agree, and has decided to withdraw them from their important mission.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement that Evers’ decision is “yet another example of how our governor is catering to his Dane County liberal base and refusing to do what’s best for our state and in this case, the entire nation.”

Vos said the operation is federally funded and doesn’t save any state taxpayer dollars.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a Monday tweet that the governor “is playing politics instead of working to keep Wisconsin safe.”

A Republican congressman from Illinois who said he serves in the Wisconsin National Guard said that the border mission is honorable and asked Evers to reconsider the withdrawal.

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger described in a series of tweets the work he says he has done at the border, claiming his crew caught a man crossing the border with 70 pounds of methamphetamine, saving a woman roaming the desert alone and capturing coyotes who he said prey on migrants.

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“Did you go visit them on the border to see for yourself?” he asked Evers over Twitter. “Or did you make your decision based solely on politics?”

Kinzinger echoed those sentiments during an appearance on Fox News, criticizing Evers for never visiting the troops on the border. He accused the governor of lacking the courage to announce the withdrawal earlier in the day.

A Wisconsin National Guard spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking to confirm whether Kinzinger is a Wisconsin National Guard member and whether he would face any military discipline for criticizing Evers, the state National Guard’s commander in chief.

A Kinzinger spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., also didn’t immediately respond to an email.

Evers isn’t the first governor to scale back border deployment.

Earlier this month, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all but 11 to 15 of the state’s 118 National Guard troops to leave the border. The Democrat said she rejects Trump’s contention that there is a national security crisis at the border, calling it a “charade.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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© 2019 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.