Sunday 4 December 2022

Congress, White House Consider Repealing Military Vaccine Mandate

 Congress and the White House are mulling proposals from top lawmakers to repeal the U.S. military’s vaccine mandate several months after President Joe Biden declared the COVID-19 pandemic to be “over,” according to recent media reports.

Congress’ annual defense bill, the text of which is set to be published next week, may include a compromise amendment scrapping the military vaccine requirement, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington told Politico on Saturday. Smith’s comments followed prospective House leader Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s claims on Friday that House and Senate leaders had come to an agreement, which the White House is considering, on overturning the Biden administration’s service-wide mandate, according to Reuters.

President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and McCarthy had negotiated a bipartisan agreement to end the mandate, McCarthy told Fox News on Friday evening. 

“We’re going to see in the NDAA – lift the vaccination mandate on our military men and women,” McCarthy said, referring to Congress’ yearly funding bill for the U.S. military.

However, the White House denied any agreement to scrap the mandate was set in stone, according to Reuters.

“Leader McCarthy raised this with the president and the president told him he would consider it,” White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton told the outlet.

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

So far, the Army has discharged 1,841 servicemembers, the Navy 2,032 and the Marine Corps 3,717 for refusing the vaccine.

Smith confirmed on Saturday that Congress was close to getting rid of the mandate, a win for Republicans amid attempts to hammer out final provisions of the $847 billion budget bill that is already behind schedule, Politico reported.

“We haven’t resolved it, but it is very fair to say that it’s in discussion,” Smith told Politico.

The House and Senate versions of the bill left out any amendment forcing the Pentagon to lift its mandate, but closed-door negotiations could see one added in the final version, according to Politico.

The Pentagon imposed a service-wide requirement in August 2021, as the COVID-19 virus swept across the U.S. Defense leaders continue to call troops’ vaccination status a “readiness issue.”

Smith said the policy could be outdated. “At this point in time, does it make sense to have that policy from August 2021? That is a discussion that I am open to and that we’re having,” he added.

However, the Pentagon has fallen under intense scrutiny for imposing the mandate and sluggishly reviewing religious exemptions requests to the mandate.

Every service but the Army is currently under a form of legal injunction against separating or disciplining servicemembers seeking religious exemptions as several cases play out in court. Attorneys for the unvaccinated airmen and sailors say the Pentagon is violating the First Amendment and federal legislation prohibiting conscience discrimination.

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