The House version of the Pentagon’s annual budget will reportedly include a provision rescinding the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for those serving in the military.
“Ending the requirement, under which servicemembers who aren’t fully vaccinated are subject to discharge, has been a top priority of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other senior Republicans in both chambers,” according to Roll Call.
“McCarthy raised the issue with President Joe Biden in a meeting last week and reiterated over the weekend that the mandate should be repealed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act,” the news outlet added.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that Sec. of Defense Lloyd Austin opposes repealing the vaccine mandate and that Biden concurs with that view.
Both believe “that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19,” Kirby said.
Democrat Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, told Politico a rollback of the vaccine mandate is on the table for the NDAA.
“We haven’t resolved it, but it is very fair to say that it’s in discussion,” Smith said over the weekend at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Last week 21 GOP governors sent a letter to top congressional leaders calling on them to pass legislation ending the mandate.
In August 2021, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated military personnel get vaccinated or face separation from service.
🚨🇺🇸US officials to wear Visor over the mask.
— Terror Alarm (@Terror_Alarm) July 31, 2021
Republican governors wrote in their letter addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that 8,000 service members have been separated under the policy so far.
“The Biden vaccine mandate on our military creates a national security risk that severely impacts our defense capabilities abroad and our state readiness here at home,” they added.
“We face a two-front problem due to the Biden vaccine mandate: current servicemembers are leaving our ranks, and new recruits are not signing up to join.”
The federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate on members of our Armed Forces is a threat to national security & readiness at home in TN.
With 20 GOP governors, I’m calling on Congressional leaders to take action to restore personal freedom for the brave men & women who serve our nation. pic.twitter.com/TT164k2pJa
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) November 30, 2022
The letter highlighted that the U.S. Army National Guard missed its recruitment goal for 2022 by 10 percent and that 7,500 members left the service. The active-duty U.S. Army missed its goal by 25 percent, falling 15,000 recruits short. Many people who join the Guard previously served in the active-duty military.
The governors further noted the Guard is preparing to discharge about 14,000 members over the next two years for declining to take the vaccine.
In a letter to Senate Republican leadership last week, 13 GOP senators led by Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called for an amendment to the NDAA that would both prohibit separations for service members who have not taken the vaccine and reinstate those members who have been separated and grant them back pay.
GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California told Fox News Tuesday that so far the provision for repealing the vaccine mandate does not include reinstating those who were separated from service, which isn’t good enough for him.
“The repair has to be reinstating individuals who want to come back, correcting their records, allowing these individuals who have served honorably to be recognized that way,” the congressman said.
Issa expressed frustration with Austin’s resistance to reverse the vaccine mandate policy.
“At this point, I don’t give a damn what that power-hungry cabinet officer wants,” Issa said. “Congress is speaking loud and clear, and we will continue to do so.”
Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, who served in the Army Special Forces and is a colonel in the National Guard, pointed out in a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing in July that since the vaccine mandate went into effect, the understanding of the vaccine’s effectiveness has changed.
“I think it’s pretty clear now that it doesn’t stop the spread,” he said. “It’s more of a decision on what types of symptoms you want to incur or risk in your personal capacity, making it much more of a personal health decision.”
Fox News reported the NDAA for fiscal year 2023 bill is expected to be released Wednesday and voted on by the House later this week.