A fight to block the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates is far from over in the Senate even though lawmakers voted against a measure that would have stopped the mandate.
Senate Democrats late Thursday blocked a measure authored by Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas that would have prohibited federal funding from being used to implement or enforce vaccine mandates. The measure failed 50-48.
But Republicans aren’t giving up on efforts to stop President Joe Biden from implementing the mandate, which they say is unconstitutional, unfair, and will force people out of jobs.
Party lawmakers plan to bring up a resolution next week that would reverse the Biden administration’s new requirement that large businesses require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
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Biden announced the mandate in September. It requires anyone working for a company with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated against the virus by Jan. 4 or face a weekly COVID-19 testing requirement.
White House officials emphasized their commitment to the mandate in a statement Thursday outlining the steps Biden is taking to slow the winter spread of COVID-19 and the omicron variant, which is potentially more contagious.
“To protect this progress and to ensure workers stay safe and on the job, we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our workplaces and places of businesses,” White House officials said in a statement. “Vaccination requirements do just that.”
Congressional Republicans almost uniformly oppose the requirement even though most of them are vaccinated and publicly encourage the public to get the shot.
“The answer to someone not agreeing with your medical advice is not to fire you, and it sure as heck isn’t to have the president of the United States fine every employer in America that doesn’t want to do this whether they have religious objections or otherwise,” Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who has led GOP opposition to the vaccine, said Thursday.
Special rules allow Republicans to bring up the resolution and pass it with 51 votes instead of the usual 60 votes.
The GOP controls 50 votes, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, plans to vote with Republicans, which means if all GOP lawmakers support ending the mandate, the resolution will pass.
“I do not support any government vaccine mandate on private businesses,” Manchin said in a statement. “That’s why I have cosponsored and will strongly support a bill to overturn the federal government vaccine mandate for private businesses. I have long said we should incentivize, not penalize, private employers whose responsibility it is to protect their employees from COVID-19. I have personally had both vaccine doses and a booster shot and I continue to urge every West Virginian to get vaccinated themselves.”
Republicans introduced the measure under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn rules implemented by federal agencies.
The vaccine mandate has been slowed by court challenges, and the Biden administration has suspended the requirement for private businesses.
But Republicans are determined to codify a ban on vaccine mandates and to bring up other legislation that would block implementation.
In addition to the Congressional Review Act resolution, lawmakers have introduced other legislation aimed at circumventing Biden.
Marshall and a group of GOP lawmakers introduced legislation that would prevent the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for refusing the vaccine.
The House Armed Services Committee recently passed similar language led by Rep. Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican, in an amendment to the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act that is now under consideration in the Senate.
“It’s an insult to our servicemen and women who have served with honor to dishonorably discharge them for refusing the COVID vaccine,” Marshall said. “It is the same way we dishonorably discharge those convicted of serious crimes such as treason, desertion, sexual assault, and murder. Forcing all service members, including pregnant women and those who have already had COVID-19, to receive the vaccine is just one more example of President Biden and his administration putting politics ahead of science.”
The White House opposes the provision, arguing in a position statement it would “detract from readiness and limit a commander’s options for enforcing good order and discipline when a Service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination.”
Democrats have criticized and mocked the GOP over their efforts to undo the mandate, labeling them “anti-vaxxers” and arguing they are working against eliminating COVID-19.
If the Senate is able to pass the resolution reversing the mandates, it would require the unlikely approval of both the Democratic-led House and Biden.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, dismissed the GOP's bid to stop Biden's mandates, arguing that the requirements will enable more people to safely return to work.
“It's a defiance of science and public health,” Pelosi said Thursday. “And that's what we're up against.”