The White House on Monday maintained its support for keeping the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate in place as House and Senate Republicans threaten to block the national defense bill from moving forward unless the rule is lifted.
In August 2021, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo making COVID vaccines mandatory for all service members. Republicans have been demanding the vaccine mandate on service members be lifted for months as unvaccinated troops have continued to be subjected to punishments despite President Joe Biden declaring in September that the pandemic is “over.” As a result, the military is also struggling with recruitment and retention.
The White House said over the weekend that the Biden administration was considering repealing the mandate after speaking with House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, but White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby on Monday seemed to signal otherwise.
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“Secretary Austin’s been very clear that he opposes the repeal of that vaccine mandate, and the president actually concurs with the secretary that we need to continue to believe that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID 19 ,” Kirby said Monday.
Kirby said administration officials are “aware that Congress is putting a repeal” for the mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets military policy and spending levels for the Pentagon and other agencies in the country’s national defense infrastructure, but he added that vaccines “are saving lives, including our men and women in uniform.”
“So, this remains a very, very much a health and readiness issue for the force,” Kirby said. “And again, the president supports Secretary Austin and the opposition to a repeal of the mandate.”
McCarthy, R-Calif., over the weekend said Republicans are working through the NDAA and said lawyers “will secure lifting that vaccine mandate on our military.”
“Because what we’re finding is, they’re kicking out men and women that have been serving,” McCarthy said on “Sunday Morning Futures.” “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.”
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McCarthy warned that the NDAA “will not move” if the vaccine mandate on service members is not lifted.
A White House spokesperson told Fox News Digital that McCarthy raised the issue with Biden and said that “the president told him he would consider it.”
“The secretary of defense has recommended retaining the mandate, and the president supports his position,” White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton told Fox News Digital. “Discussions about the NDAA are ongoing.”
Last week, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., joined 11 other senators in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leadership members last week demanding that the GOP not allow the NDAA to move forward without a vote on military vaccine mandates.
“The Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccine mandate has ruined the livelihoods of men and women who have honorably served our country,” the Paul-led letter said. “While the Department of Defense certainly must make decisions that will bolster military readiness, the effects of the mandate are antithetical to readiness of our force, and the policy must be revoked.”
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Meanwhile, the vaccine mandate is not the only provision Democrats included in the NDAA that Republicans oppose.
For example, Democrats have included language in the fiscal year 2023 NDAA to extend the military draft to women, prompting Republicans led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to introduce the “Don’t Draft our Daughters” amendment.
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“The defense bill isn’t the place for Democrats to indulge the wild ideas of their latest social experiments, like forcing women to register for the draft,” Cotton told Fox News Digital. “If Democrats want to protect America and keep our troops safe, they should agree to pass a clean bill and leave their woke pet projects out of it.”