WASHINGTON – Several Republicans warn they will hold off on Senate consideration of a massive military policy bill unless they win a vote to end a Covid vaccination mandate for service members.
At a news conference Wednesday, the group of seven senators said they would withhold support for expedited consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act if Senate leaders do not allow a plenary vote on their proposal.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said the group “will not vote to participate in the NDAA, the defense authorization bill, unless we have a vote to end this military vaccination mandate.”
Paul, who frequently clashed with Dr. Anthony Fauci over the Covid vaccine, typically votes against the NDAA each year. He is also in line to be the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees the government’s response to the pandemic.
The threat from the senators could delay final passage of the annual bill, which Congress has consistently passed, but it would not prevent the Senate from finally voting on the legislation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., argued that military recruitment had suffered as a result of vaccination requirements, which Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made mandatory for all service members in August 2021. The requirement applies to all service members on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard.
“The problem here is that we have a dilemma that we haven’t had in decades, and that is finding enough people to serve,” Graham said. “Our recruitment targets are too short, the conflict in the world is getting worse, not better. We need more people in the military, not fewer.”
NBC News reported in June that all branches of the US military were struggling to meet their recruiting goals for the 2022 fiscal year, which ended on September 30.
Senator Ted Cruz, who is also threatening to delay consideration of the defense policy bill, suggested that the Biden administration was using the covid vaccine policy to “purge” conservatives from the military.
“I think they are using it as an excuse from the enlisted level, all the way down to majors and colonels all the way to the top brass,” the Texas Republican said.
Meanwhile, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin questioned the efficacy of the vaccine, despite its proven ability to provide robust protection against hospitalization and death.
“The bottom line here is that the vaccine does not prevent infection. It doesn’t prevent transmission,” Johnson said. “Then why would we have someone take it? It’s crazy.
The other Republican senators calling for a vote on the vaccine include Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Braun of Indiana.
The Biden administration has had a mixed record on covid vaccine mandates challenged in court. In January, the Supreme Court blocked the administration’s rule requiring larger companies to make sure workers are vaccinated or wear masks and get tested weekly. But he also said a separate mandate requiring vaccinations could be enforced for an estimated 20 million healthcare workers.
Without the support of Senate Republican leaders, the seven senators’ proposal is unlikely to win a vote.
When asked about talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republican leaders, Paul said “no one” in the leadership has backed his plan.
“To my knowledge, no one in the leadership has signed on to support the effort yet. And I would ask them, from my perspective, to let us know if they are for or against this,” Paul said.
McConnell’s office declined to comment.