Republicans push for vaccine mandate repeal before NDAA vote

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren C. Moye, FISM News


With falling support for the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, Republicans warn they will vote no on the annual defense spending bill unless Congress also votes to end the vaccination policy.

Starting last week, a minority of GOP senators voiced their intentions to drag out consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA) unless a full-chamber vote occurs on the COVID-19 vaccination policy first. This massive military policy bill is traditionally passed each year.

On Wednesday, the original coalition of thirteen GOP senators wrote to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Whip John Thune, Chairman of the Republican Conference John Barrasso, and Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee Roy Blunt to formally document their dissent to the NDAA unless the Senate includes an amendment to “prohibit the involuntary separation of a member of the Armed forces” because of their vaccination status and “reinstate those who may have already been separated with back pay.”

They added that the mandate had resulted in 3,400 troops being discharged over their refusal of the COVID-19 policy, which the Senators said was “antithetical to the readiness of our force.”

For the bill to truly be prevented in the Senate, it would take the opposition of 41 senators.

That’s unlikely to happen according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who told The Hill yesterday that he, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) had “all been working towards getting it done and we’re going to do it next week.”

Both the House and the Senate passed versions of the NDAA earlier this year. As such, the bills must be reconciled and pass through the chambers again.

The senators are not alone in their quest to end the mandate, though. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has vowed the NDAA will not go forward in the House without the mandate first being repealed.

McCarthy said to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday that the GOP “will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military.”

“That’s the first victory of having a Republican majority, and we’d like to have more of those victories, and we should start moving those now,” he added.

As one step to secure this “first victory,” McCarthy allegedly gained needed bipartisan support while meeting with President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and McConnell.

The White House later denied that Biden had agreed to end the mandate. White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton instead said that Biden had agreed to consider it but wanted to follow the secretary of defense’s recommendation.

“The secretary of defense has recommended retaining the mandate, and the president supports his position. Discussions about the NDAA are ongoing.” Dalton said.

In November, McCarthy also called for Republican allies to delay the bill until they take the majority in the new year so that language could be included to end “woke” policies in the military.

Other Republicans have previously voiced concerns that these policies are harming recruitment efforts for military branches. Sources from within the military agree that this is a factor in falling troop morale and recruitment.

The Army fell short of its recruitment goal for Fiscal Year 2022 by 15,000 soldiers, roughly 25% of the total goal. The other branches barely scraped by after tapping into their reserved applicant pools. This is expected to increase their struggle in the current year.

Meanwhile, Defense Department data says that 3,717 Marines, 1,816 soldiers, and 2,064 sailors were discharged for refusing to follow the mandate.

On Wednesday, 21 Republican governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, also petitioned party leaders in both Congress branches to end the mandate over these concerns. The governors warned, “The Biden vaccine mandate on our military creates a national security risk that severely impacts our defense capabilities abroad and our state readiness here at home.”

The governors stated that the mandate resulted in current servicemembers leaving their military ranks while making it more difficult to recruit new troops. Accordingly, they asked that the mandate be prohibited either through NDAA or a standalone bill.