A massive bill setting out defense policy could end the military’s Covid vaccine mandate, a source familiar with the talks told CNN, coming on the heels of intense Republican lobbying to remove the mandate and acceptance by key Democrats that it’s time for a change. .
The annual national defense authorization bill is likely to be approved by Congress within the next two weeks. The text of the bill, which had been expected to be released as early as Monday, has not yet been released, and that timeline could be delayed as lawmakers seek to finalize details of its content.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said over the weekend that President Joe Biden supports a move to end the mandate for a Covid-19 vaccine, although White House officials said that was overblown.
The White House said it still supports the vaccine mandate, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated the Pentagon’s support for the order.
“Secretary Austin supports maintaining the vaccine mandate. The health and readiness of our troops is critical to our warfighting capabilities and is a top priority. I will not comment on potential or pending legislation,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig said. General Patrick Ryder said in a statement.
The movement on Capitol Hill, however, highlights actions at play and driven by lawmakers keenly aware of the need to secure Republican votes to pass the annual defense policy measure.
That makes the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Democrat Adam Smith is leading the move to change the policy direction, though the move is unlikely to gain momentum without quiet approval from the White House.
It remains to be seen how Congress will handle service members disciplined or discouraged from serving because of the mandate.
House Republican No. 2 Steve Scalise told Fox News on Monday: “We want them back. There are a lot of young people who went to service academies and are not going to those service academies now. High schools have the best and the brightest. You too. Wanted to get them back. So we talked to the military about doing a full evaluation of all the decommissioned personnel.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that the Senate would discuss the defense bill “as soon as next week.”
Schumer pointed to the dwindling number of days left in the calendar year and said, “We’ve got a lot more to do,” referring to the National Defense Authorization Act, which confirmed more judicial nominees from President Joe Biden, and Provide funding for the government.