A growing chorus of conservatives is demanding that Senate Republicans shut down the government if President Joe Biden refuses to scrap the federal coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Such a gambit has proven to be political kryptonite, failing repeatedly under Democratic and Republican presidents and leaving the party in Congress that tried it battered and beaten. But history is not stopping conservative activists, lawmakers, and 2022 candidates opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate from urging Republicans in the Senate to force a politically risky government shutdown just before Christmas in a long-shot attempt to derail a major component of Biden’s strategy to defeat the coronavirus.

“Between now and Christmas, the debt limit will be reached and all appropriations for federal spending will expire,” Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted. “It takes 60 votes in the Senate to fund Biden’s agenda which includes FIVE different vaccine mandates. There are only 50 Democrats in the Senate.”

Rep. Chip Roy followed Massie’s declaration with a more explicit challenge for House and Senate Republicans, although with the GOP a minority in both chambers of Congress, only Senate Republicans are positioned to pull the trigger on a government shutdown. “Will they fund government that forces vax mandates ... Or will they fight?” the Texas Republican tweeted. “The choice will draw lines for 2022.”


The majority of Senate Republicans are expected to resist such calls.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes shutting down the government as a strategy to effect policy, believing the tactic legislatively ineffective and politically counterproductive. The Kentucky Republican is unlikely to view a shutdown to block Biden’s vaccine mandate any differently than he has past efforts, the Washington Examiner confirmed Tuesday, rendering the proposal dead on arrival. Democrats control a 50-seat “majority” and need 10 GOP votes to overcome a filibuster and pass any government funding bill.

The federal government is on track to run out of money on Saturday unless lawmakers act. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is asking for Republican cooperation on a short-term extension to fund Washington into next year that could pass the House and arrive in the chamber for consideration as early as Wednesday. “If Republicans choose obstruction, there will be a shutdown entirely because of their own dysfunction,” the New York Democrat said.

In exchange for the votes Schumer is asking for, many conservatives are coalescing around the idea of Republicans extracting an end to the federal coronavirus vaccine mandate that Biden implemented in September. This approach is beginning to pick up steam outside of Washington among GOP congressional candidates running in competitive primaries. Why? The answer is simple, party strategists say. The issue is potent with Republican voters — more so than elected officials inside the Beltway realize.

“Instead of giving [Democrats] a bipartisan flag to wave, we should shut down the government until the vaccine mandate ends,” J.D. Vance, a Republican Senate contender in Ohio, said during a recent candidate forum. Vance is urging GOP leaders in the Senate to hold up government funding, saying they should block an increase in the debt ceiling, which could prevent the United States from paying its bills and send the nation’s credit rating tumbling.

Of course, channeling the desires of the Republican base is a win-win for Vance in the crowded and competitive Ohio GOP Senate primary: Grassroots conservatives will give him credit for proposing the fight, and anything that goes wrong politically if Republican leaders follow his advice will redound not to Vance and candidates like him but to incumbent GOP lawmakers in Washington.

If the past is a prologue, that would be the most likely outcome. In 1995-1996, a majority-Republican Congress tried it against President Bill Clinton — and lost. In 2013, a majority-Republican House tried it against President Barack Obama — and lost. In 2018, a minority caucus of Senate Democrats tried it against former President Donald Trump — and lost. But GOP strategists from the party’s Trump wing still believe Senate Republicans would benefit from giving it a try.

“So much of what elected Republicans miss is that our voters understand political realities more than people think,” a GOP strategist who advises insurgent candidates said. “They don’t always expect you to win the fight, but they expect you to fight the fight.”

In September, Biden implemented a constitutionally questionable coronavirus vaccine mandate via executive order. The move, intended to increase vaccination rates as skepticism about the shot persists in certain communities amid the threat of new COVID-19 variants, is enforced through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under the plan, the federal agency essentially forces businesses with 100 or more employees to require their workers to get vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.

McConnell swiftly signed on to a legislative proposal to rescind the mandate under the Congressional Review Act that is being spearheaded by Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican.


The process empowers Congress to quash administration rules, regulations, and executive orders, with the majority party in the Senate unable to block a floor vote. But absent the support of majorities in the House and Senate, unlikely with Democrats in charge, this GOP effort is going nowhere. Even on the off chance it passes, Biden would veto it, preserving the vaccine mandate and extinguishing the GOP countermeasure (sufficient votes to override a veto are unlikely.)

But especially with the political winds driving Republicans toward big gains in next year’s midterm elections, experienced GOP strategists who have lived through previous government shutdowns are applauding McConnell’s prudence. Nothing productive can come, they insist, from engaging in a politically damaging fight for the sake of catharsis. “It’s a clever gimmick but unlikely to change the minds of Democrats who run Washington,” said a Republican strategist who advises GOP senators.