A defense bill released Tuesday would force the Biden administration to rescind its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troops in a huge victory for Republicans, military advocates, and families who pushed hard for it to be included in the bill.
“Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall rescind the mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the bill says.
The Biden administration’s military vaccine mandate to get fully-vaccinated or face discharge resulted in more than 8,000 troops being kicked out of the military.
However, the mandate also threatened the livelihoods of at least 60,000 more service members who did not wish to take the vaccine.
Thousands of those had filed for religious exemption from the vaccine, but their requests were largely dismissed, prompting a warning from the Pentagon inspector general.
Despite the pushback from troops and Republicans in Congress, the Biden administration had dug in its heels, saying as recently as this week that it opposed repealing the mandate.
The bill must be passed by Congress and sent to be signed by President Joe Biden to become law, but it is likely it passes since it was worked out over weeks by both Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee.
The language did not include reinstatement of troops discharged over the mandate, but Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a key House member opposing the mandate tweeted that the “next steps” are to “reinstate all members of the military wrongfully terminated due to vax.”
The military COVID vaccine mandate will end!
Page 407 & 408 of NDAA text just released.
Next steps: end all COVID vax mandates (healthcare workers and foreign visitors), and reinstate all members of military wrongfully terminated due to vax.https://t.co/hRVftUh6yl pic.twitter.com/o8noBxngGe
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) December 7, 2022
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who also pushed for rescinding the mandate tweeted, “The @freedomcaucus has been fighting to #EndVaxMandates for 2 years – this is a giant step, at least within the military.”
The @freedomcaucus has been fighting to #EndVaxMandates for 2 years – this is a giant step, at least within the military. The #NDAA remains highly flawed – and we need reinstatement, cleared records, & anti-retaliation language… but HOPEFULLY this step stays in the bill. pic.twitter.com/JjAIGHg5YY
— Chip Roy (@chiproytx) December 7, 2022
Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn (TN), Roger Marshall (KS), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Mike Braun (IN), Deb Fischer (NE), Joni Ernst (IA), Tommy Tuberville (AL), Mike Crapo (ID), Steve Daines (MT), John Hoeven (ND), and Jim Risch (ID) said in a joint statement:
In the United States, the number of new servicemembers joining the military is reaching a near record low. The United States needs a strong military to protect our country against the growing threats facing our nation. We are pleased that the final conferenced bill includes language mirroring our amendments’ efforts to protect troops from being fired due to Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate without fair appeal and to the harm of service readiness.
We’re putting an end to Joe Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. https://t.co/R4YtM13YVm
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) December 7, 2022
Another group of Republican senators also made a high-profile push last week — threatening to vote against the NDAA if it did not include a repeal of the vaccine mandate, as reported by Breitbart News.
Troops fighting the vaccine mandate expressed gratitude and hope for further steps.
Air Force Master Sergeant Nick Kupper, who has fought for troops opposing the vaccine mandate, told Breitbart News in a statement:
I’m very relieved for my fellow brothers and sisters in arms as this will save roughly 70,000 careers. I’m also disappointed however, that it does nothing to repair the damage that has been done to the 8,000+ service members, and their families, who were kicked out over this ill formed mandate.
A group of grassroots military community activists told Breitbart News called on the Pentagon to reinstate service members who were forced out, and for Congress to continue holding leaders accountable:
The repeal of the COVID vaccine mandate in the NDAA is a step in the right direction. However, it is only a small step towards rebuilding the trust between service members and their leadership, both uniformed and civilian. To continue the journey towards reestablishing trust, the DOD must reinstate those forced out and deprived their livelihoods.
The legislature must stop standing idly by as a rogue DOD flagrantly violates its own UCMJ and federal laws. Congress is duty bound to leverage the power of the purse as well as subpoena authority to force accountability of the executive branch. Policy needs to be written to ensure the protection of service members and their rights.
They added, “We are thankful to the representatives and senators who fought for us, especially the few members who stood for us when few would. We as a community are not satisfied and want to assure the 118th Congress that this issue is not going away.”