Defense bill likely to include ending military mandate for Covid vaccine, source says


A massive defense policy to set bills is likely to end the military mandate for Covid vaccinea source familiar with the negotiations told CNN, coming after intense GOP lobbying to kill the mandate and an admission by top Democrats that it’s time for a change.

The annual defense authorization bill is likely to be approved by Congress in the next two weeks. The text of the bill was expected to be revealed as soon as Monday, but it has not yet been released and the timing could slip as lawmakers seek to finalize the details of what it will include.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said over the weekend that President Joe Biden endorsed the move to end the Covid-19 vaccine mandate, though White House officials say that’s overblown.

The White House says it still supports the vaccine mandate, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the Pentagon’s support for the order.

“Minister Austin supports maintaining the vaccine mandate. The health and readiness of our forces is critical to our warfighting capability and a top priority. I will not comment on potential or pending legislation,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.

The movement on Capitol Hill, however, underscores the action that is underway and is being led by lawmakers who are aware of the need to secure GOP votes to pass the annual defense policy measure.

That put House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat, in the position of instigating a change in policy direction, though the move is unlikely to gain momentum without quiet approval from the White House.

It remains to be seen what Congress does about the service members who were disciplined or discouraged from service as a result of the term.

GOP No. 2, Steve Scalise told Fox News on Monday, “We want to get them back. There are a lot of young people going to service academies and now also not going to those service academies. There are the best and brightest from high school. You want those back too. And so we talked to the military about getting a full evaluation of all the people that were removed.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday the chamber would take up the defense bill “as soon as next week.”

Schumer noted the dwindling number of days left in the calendar year and said, “and there’s still a lot we have to do,” pointing to the National Defense Authorization Act, confirming more of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations, and funding the government.

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