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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the 2021 West Point Commencement Ceremony on May 22 in West Point, New York. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday hit back against criticism that increasing diversity in the military's ranks would weaken security, in a wide-ranging CNN interview.

Driving the news: The Army said it had to disable comments on a recent recruiting ad that featured stories from real soldiers — including immigrants and one recruit with two moms — after backlash emerged from conservative media and political figures including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

What he's saying: The military "will never be too soft," he said. "I think our adversaries would like to capitalize on talking points like that, you know, the Chinese, the Russians."

  • "What this department, what Lloyd Austin is focused on, is the defense of our nation."

Go deeper

Dem. lawmakers urge Biden to reconsider Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Several Democratic lawmakers are calling on Biden to push back the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, arguing that U.S. military presence is crucial to the safe evacuation of both Americans and Afghan partners.

Driving the news: Three members of the Armed Services Committee urged the president to reconsider the deadline following a classified congressional briefing from administration officials on the situation in Afghanistan.

Updated 2 hours ago - Health

NYC firefighters union urges members to defy mayor's vaccine mandate

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The president of New York City's firefighters union told reporters Wednesday that he's advised unvaccinated members to ignore Mayor Bill de Blasio's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers, per Reuters.

Why it matters: Under de Blasio's order that's due to take effect Friday, unvaccinated city employees would be placed on unpaid leave. But Uniformed Firefighters Association head Andrew Ansbro said he told members that "if they choose to remain unvaccinated, they must still report for duty," according to Reuters.

4 hours ago - Health

Study: Common antidepressant guards against COVID hospitalization

A COVID-19 intensive Care Unit in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on May 27, 2021. Photo: Fabio Teixeira/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The readily available antidepressant fluvoxamine significantly reduced COVID-related hospitalizations, according to a large study published Wednesday.

Why it matters: The clinical trial suggests that a cheap, readily available drug could dramatically reduce serious illness and death when prescribed early.