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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke August 2, 2021

Why Rubio’s critique of Lloyd Austin’s face shield falls short

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  • Marco Rubio shared photos of Lloyd Austin and suggested that the defense secretary was defying local law in the Philippines by failing to wear a face shield. But two of those photos were taken in different countries, and Austin was recorded and photographed wearing a face shield in the Philippines.

On July 29, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shared a video of himself deplaning in the Philippines wearing a face mask and clear face shield. It was part of a trip to Southeast Asia that included stops in Singapore and Vietnam. Later that day, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted the video and said: "Our @SecDef is vaccinated. But he arrives in the Philippines wearing a mask AND face shield. Embarrassing COVID theatre." 

Carla Babb, Pentagon correspondent for the Voice of America, responded that she was traveling with Austin as a member of the press and that, prior to arrival, reporters were told that "the Philippines required everyone getting off @SecDef’s plane to wear a mask and face shield." 

Dave Brown, defense editor for Politico, also responded with information from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.

"The Philippine government has mandated that everyone must wear full-coverage face shields together with face masks while in public places," he tweeted, quoting information available on the embassy’s website. "Local governments continue to implement additional requirements to slow the virus’ spread."  

Rubio fired back with four pictures, including three in which Austin isn’t wearing a face shield. 

"I guess the face shield mandate was lifted shortly after he landed," Rubio tweeted on July 30. 

Did Austin defy local law? 

We reached out to Rubio’s office but didn’t receive a response. But here’s what we know about the photos he shared.

Featured Fact-check

The first image is a still from a video Austin tweeted. He’s wearing a face mask and a face shield and meeting with Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines. He fistbumps with Duterte, who is wearing a mask but not a face shield. 

The second image is another Austin shared that shows him standing with Delfin Lorenzana, defense secretary of the Philippines, wearing a face mask but no shield. He held a joint press conference with Lorenzana at the Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Manila, Philippines. 

In a video taken before the photo was taken, both men are wearing face shields as they meet and fistbump. Lorenzana then moves to take his shield off and both men pose and wave without them. 

But as Brown noted, the third and fourth images, both of which show Austin wearing a face mask without a shield, weren’t taken in the Philippines. One shows Austin in Hanoi, Vietnam, on July 29 and the other shows him in Singapore on July 27.

When we reached out to the Defense Department, a Pentagon spokesperson told us that it received guidance to wear the face shield to the maximum extent possible, especially inside, unless invited by the host nation to remove it. In the picture in which Austin was seen not wearing a shield, the spokesperson said, Lorenzana had invited Austin to remove the face shield during official photos so as not to avoid the glare of camera flashes.

Our ruling

Rubio shared photos of Austin and suggested they show that the defense secretary wasn’t wearing a shield in the Philippines even though it was required by local law. Two of those photos weren’t taken in the Philippines. A third photo shows Austin without a shield in Manila, but a Pentagon spokesperson said that he was invited to remove it. Video footage from before that photo was taken shows him wearing it as the defense secretary from the Philippines removes his own.

We rate Rubio’s claim Mostly False.  


Our Sources

The New York Times, After years of Chinese influence, U.S. tries to renew ties in Southeast Asia, July 27, 2021

Lloyd Austin tweet, July 29, 2021

Marco Rubio tweet, July 29, 2021

Carla Babb tweet, July 29, 2021

Dave Brown tweet, July 29, 2021

U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, COVID-19 information, visited July 30, 2021

Marco Rubio tweet, July 30, 2021

Lloyd Austin tweet, July 29, 2021

Lloyd Austin tweet, July 29, 2021

U.S. Dept. of Defense, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Holds a Joint Press Conference With Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Manila, Philippines, July 30, 2021

The Associated Press, Philippine leader retains pact allowing US war exercises, July 29, 2021

Dave Brown tweet, July 30, 2021

YouTube video, July 30, 2021

Statement from the Pentagon to PolitiFact, Aug. 2, 2021

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Why Rubio’s critique of Lloyd Austin’s face shield falls short

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