Senate passes defense bill rescinding COVID vaccine mandate

Senate passes defense bill rescinding COVID vaccine mandate

Before the Senate approved the measure, the Senate voted against some attempts to change it, including a proposal by Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., to speed up the energy project approval process. The efforts had drawn fierce opposition from some environmental groups, who feared they would speed up fossil fuel projects such as gas pipelines and limit public participation in such projects.

Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, last summer secured a commitment from Biden and Democratic leaders to support the permit package in exchange for his backing of a landmark climate change bill.

Machin Legislation sets deadlines for completing National Environmental Policy Act reviews for large energy and natural resource projects. It would require courts to expedite review of litigation related to energy project permits. It also directs federal agencies to authorize the completion of a natural gas pipeline in its home state and Virginia “without further administrative or judicial delay or hindrance.”

“We’re about to do something incredible, but let me tell you, most of it will be for nothing. Because without reform, the United States is more contentious than any other nation in the world,” Manchin told colleagues.

Biden announced his support for Manchin’s legislation just hours before Thursday’s vote. He said far too many projects were facing delays and described Manchin’s change “as a way to lower Americans’ energy bills, promote U.S. energy security, and improve our ability to build and connect energy projects to the grid.”

Not only some environmental groups have criticized Manchin’s proposal, but also many Republicans. Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it doesn’t go far enough, calling it “reform in name only.”

The amendment missed the 60 votes required for passage by a margin of 47 to 47.

An amendment by Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was also rejected. It would have allowed for the reinstatement of soldiers who were fired for failing to comply with an order to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine and would have compensated them for any salaries and benefits lost as a result of the separation.

“People who serve in our military are the best among us. Over 8,000 have been fired for refusing to get this experimental vaccine, and so I call on all my colleagues to support Senator Cruz’s amendment and my amendment,” Johnson said.

However, opponents were concerned about the precedent of rewarding military personnel who disobeyed an order. Jack Reed, Senator from Rhode Island, the Democratic chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said orders aren’t suggestions, they’re orders.

“What message are we sending when we pass this law? It’s very dangerous,” Reed said. “What we say to the soldiers is, ‘If you don’t agree, don’t obey the order and then just stand up for Congress and they will come and they will restore your rank or restore your benefits or restore everything. ‘”

The amendment failed with 40 senators supporting it and 54 opposed.

The Defense Act sets guidelines and provides a roadmap for future investments. Legislators will have to follow up expenditure calculations in order to make many provisions a reality. It’s one of the final bills that Congress is expected to approve before it adjourns, so lawmakers have been keen to give it their top priorities.

The directive removing the military vaccination mandate proved to be one of the most controversial provisions, but Democrats agreed to move the bill forward.

As of earlier this month, approximately 99% of active duty troops in the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and 98% of the Army were vaccinated. Unvaccinated service members may not be deployed, particularly Sailors or Marines on ships. There may be some exceptions to this due to religious or other exceptions and the duties of the service member.

Guard and reserve immunization rates are lower, but are generally all over 90%.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

Kevin Freking, The Associated Press

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