White House and Pentagon oppose removing COVID-19 Vax mandate in defense law

WASHINGTON — The White House and Pentagon are rejecting calls to end the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troops as Congress negotiates a military spending plan that some lawmakers insist the vaccination requirement be lifted.

Many Republicans are calling for — and even some Democrats are open to — that the Biden administration’s COVID vaccine requirement be repealed in upcoming defense budget legislation expected to be finalized and unveiled this week.

“Congress should take action, and we’re taking action today by saying we won’t vote to go into the NDAA — the Defense Authorization Act — unless we have a vote to end that mandate on military vaccines.” , Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., one of the main GOP opponents of the vaccine regulation, told a news conference Wednesday.

But President Joe Biden and his administration see no reason to end the requirement, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.

Under the COVID firing order issued by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in August 2021, all service members must receive the vaccine or face deportation if they refuse an order.

A soldier receives a shot.
A US soldier receives a coronavirus vaccine ordered by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last year.
Getty Images

“Obviously, we’re aware that Congress is considering including a repeal of the vaccination mandate in the NDAA,” he said. “Secretary Austin has made it very clear that he opposes lifting the vaccination mandate, and the President actually agrees with the Secretary of Defense.”

The NDAA sets defense policy and spending priorities for fiscal 2023. Without his approval, the Pentagon must continue with the 2022 version and continue resolution funds until the matter is resolved. This funding is expected to expire on December 16th.

To move the legislation forward, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a Politico report Friday that while he was a “very strong supporter” of the mandate when it went into effect, he was “open” to discussion on its repeal as Congress leaders continue to finalize the $847 billion bill for a vote this week.

“At this point, does it make sense to have that policy as of August 2021?” Smith said, according to Politico, noting that the “pandemic has subsided.”

Republican leader of the House Kevin McCarthy raised the issue in a meeting with Biden last week. Initially, the president was open to discussing the issue, but Austin’s opposition to the measure hardened his view, White House press secretary Karine Jeanne-Pierre said Monday.

“The President told him he would think about it, but also made it clear that he wanted to consult with the Pentagon,” she said. “Since … the secretary of defense has recommended that the mandate be retained as COVID vaccination requirements were introduced to keep our service members safe and healthy and ready for duty.”

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin late last year ordered all US troops to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Getty Images

During Paul’s press briefing last week, Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said he would not vote to move the bill forward “unless we have a vote to change that policy,” citing the difficult ones military recruitment rates.

“It doesn’t make sense to me to lay off thousands of people – for whatever reason and genuine reasons I’m sure – at a time when we need to get more people into the military.”

But Kirby, a retired Navy admiral and former Pentagon spokesman, said mandatory vaccination “remains very, very much a health and preparedness issue for the force.”

“[Biden] Remains of the belief that all Americans, including those in the armed forces, should be vaccinated and spiked against COVID-19,” Kirby said. “As you’ve all seen for yourself, vaccines save lives, including our men and women in uniform.”

John Kirby
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the White House and Pentagon are opposed to lifting the coronavirus vaccine mandate.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The coronavirus vaccine is one of dozens the Department of Defense has mandated for troops — something the military has been doing “almost since its inception,” according to the Army.

“On February 5, 1777, against Congressional orders, Washington ordered the Army to be vaccinated against smallpox,” the Army said in a 2018 article Smallpox was down from about 1 in 12 to 1 in 10,000 soldiers.”

https://nypost.com/2022/12/05/white-house-pentagon-oppose-removing-covid-19-vax-mandate-in-defense-bill/ White House and Pentagon oppose removing COVID-19 Vax mandate in defense law

JACLYN DIAZ

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