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GOP senators threaten to delay military bill over vaccine mandate

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WASHINGTON — Several Republicans are warning they will delay Senate consideration of a massive military policy bill unless they get a vote to end a Covid vaccine mandate for military personnel.

At a news conference Wednesday, the group of seven senators said they would withhold support for prompt consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act if Senate leaders do not allow a vote on their proposal.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said the group “will not vote to get on the NDAA — the defense authorization bill — unless we vote to end this military vaccine mandate.”

Paul, who regularly clashed with Dr. Anthony Fauci on the Covid vaccine, typically votes against the NDAA every year. He is also in line to become the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which oversees the government’s pandemic response.

The threat from the senators could delay final approval of the annual bill, which Congress has consistently passed, but it wouldn’t stop the Senate from eventually voting on the legislation.

Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., argued that military recruiting had suffered from vaccine requirements, which Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made mandatory for all military personnel in August 2021. The requirement applies to all military personnel 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 way too short, the world’s conflict is getting worse, not better. We need more people in the army, not less.”

NBC News reported in June that every branch of the U.S. military was struggling to meet its recruiting targets for fiscal 2022, which ended Sept. 30.

Senator Ted Cruz, who also threatens to delay consideration of the defense policy bill, suggested the Biden administration used the Covid vaccination policy to “purge” conservatives from the military.

“I think they’re using it as an excuse from the draftee level all the way up to the majors and colonels all the way up to the top,” the Texan Republican said.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson cast doubt on the vaccine’s effectiveness, despite their proven ability to provide robust protection against hospitalization and death.

“The bottom line is that the vaccine does not prevent infection. It doesn’t prevent transfer,” Johnson said. “So why would we let someone take it? It’s insane.”

The other GOP senators calling for a vote on a vaccine include Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Braun of Indiana.

The Biden administration has a mixed record of Covid vaccine mandates that have been challenged in court. In January, the Supreme Court blocked the government’s rule requiring larger companies to ensure workers are vaccinated or wear masks and tested weekly. But it also said a separate mandate could be enforced requiring vaccinations for an estimated 20 million healthcare workers.

Without the support of Senate Republican leaders, the proposal from the seven senators is unlikely to get a vote.

When asked about conversations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other GOP leaders, Paul said “no one” in the leadership has supported their plan.

“As far as I know, nobody in the leadership has signed up to support the effort. And I would ask, from my perspective, that they let us know if they are for or against,” Paul said.

McConnell’s office declined to comment.


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